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Egypt in Crisis January 28, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in Events, Politics, World Affairs.
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Protests in Egypt are larger and more intense than they’ve ever been before. “Unprecedented” is the word most frequently used to describe the current political events there. The size of the democratic revolt is unprecedented, as are the levels of repression and censorship. After videos like this Tiananmen square incident and this government shooting were posted to internet sites, the Egyptian government shut down Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and other social networking sites. This extreme form of government repression and censorship reminds me of the Iranian protests after their June 2009 election was allegedly rigged. The main difference between these protests and those of the Green Movement in Iran is that the Egyptian regime is a staunch ally of the US, whereas the Iranian government is Americas top foe in the region. This fact makes for an extremely delicate challenge for the Obama administration. How should the U.S. respond when a democratic revolution threatens to topple a government that serves our interests?

In his State of the Union, the President spoke of the ideas our nation was founded upon. Perhaps the two most fundamental ideas of the American revolution was that all people have the rights to liberty and to govern their own affairs. The political repression in Egypt is on par with the harshest in the world. The economy has been horribly mismanaged for years. Egyptians don’t have certain inalienable rights. America’s fundamental values from which American exceptionalism is derived – liberty, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness – are in direct conflict with a state which protects our core vital interests i.e. counter-terrorism, cheap flow of oil through the Suez Canal, as well as mediation in regional issues such as Gaza, Lebanon, and Iran. Our values conflict with our realpolitik national interests. Historically, for the United States the later has nearly always trumped the former; our core vital interests as a state override our the values we profess to uphold.

But this is the wrong time to forsake our values. Not only is standing on the side of freedom and democracy the right thing to do, if the calculation of the United States’ core interests is made with a long-term view, it is also in the best interest of the United States. Mubarak is 84 years old and sick, the population is young, unemployed and restless, and inflation is off the charts. These protests may or may not topple the regime, but they have already made the US support for Mubarak more costly. Mubarak’s succession is imminent. One way or another he will be replaced soon. Rather than attempting to prop him (or his son) up indefinitely, the United States should support the people of Egypt, both in words and deeds by using its immense leverage with the Egyptian government to make serious, democratic reforms.

Like all revolutions, the one gathering steam in Egypt is multifarious. Thus, it is difficult to tell whether the next government of Egypt (whenever it comes) will be closer in political outlook to the Muslim Brotherhood or Mohammed El-Baraedi. The US would certainly prefer the later, but that is not a choice for the US to make. Instead it should distance itself from the Mubarak regime (something the Obama administration is already beginning to do). The US should also seek better relations with future power brokers in Egypt, so that when power changes hands the US will be more likely to find common ground with the new regime.

This should get very interesting!

The best Western-based coverage I’ve seen so far is a primary account in the NY Review of Books, however it’s author was a Cairo-based Egyptian journalist, Yasmine El Rashidi. Twitter has some good coverage as well: lots of links to primary coverage. One tweet read: “The entire nation of Egypt has no Internet access, and the top story on the NYT is the Chicago Mayor’s race? WTF??”