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Why Egypt Matters to You

Thanks to everyone who commented on this thread: It definitely helped me understand where to focus. 

Here’s the very short argument. Give this to your friends.

US military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually. Your money, in other words, is keeping Mubarak in power. That government is now doing this to its people. Listen to the audio. It’s hard to say just what’s happening, given the media blackout, but clearly terrible things are happening in Egypt. 

Many of the people now protesting in Egypt want what every American takes as his birthright: democracy, dignity, rule of law, civil rights.

Many of them, however–I would wager–do not.

Though the blackout makes it hard to understand exactly what’s happening, it is highly improbable that anti-democratic forces would not try to exploit this unrest. This is a dream come true for Egypt’s Islamists, obviously. Quite some number of those Islamists, for sure, wish you and your children dead.  Even if nothing about these photos and images touches you in any way, I can promise you that total anarchy in Egypt, or an Islamist regime there, would end up touching you. 

The fact that we are supporting the Mubarak regime may not be immediately obvious to most Americans, but it is the central fact about America to every Egyptian alive–to 83 million people in the heart of the Middle East.

The Mubarak government is basically friendly to the United States, but it is right now crushing its own people. If it succeeds, we will not be identified with the man above in red. We will be identified with the men above in black. In fact, we already are.  

If it doesn’t succeed, God knows what will happen. Maybe something good–maybe the blossoming, at last, of real democracy in this region.

Or maybe something so awful as to make Iran look like a bagatelle. 

Certainly, this is a spontaneous, indigenous, authentic democracy movement. That’s real. No doubt about it. Supposedly, this is what we wanted to happen in the Middle East when we went into Iraq. This was the desired outcome of the Bush Doctrine. 

We are not powerless to influence the outcome of these events. Our Secretary of State could get on the phone and say, “Touch one more hair on the head of one more protester and we pull the plug.”

Or she could get on the phone and say, “Crush it. We’ll help. Do what needs to be done. Egypt isn’t ready. Remember Iran.”

We elect our governments: No one is beating us. We’re responsible for what they do. Hilary Clinton is our employee.  We’ve got a democracy already and we’re free to speak about this without getting our heads cracked in. We’re free to try to influence our government’s policy. 

They’re not. 

We owe it to them at least to try to understand what’s happening. 

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More By Claire Berlinski

With Friends Like This, Egypt Doesn’t Need Enemies

“PLEASE ASK YOUR MEDIA TO COVER #EGYPT NOW”

Punching Through

  1. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    One added point. Egypt is the most important country in the Sunni Arab world — the most populous, blessed with the best farmland, the most developed culturally. It is where books get printed and movies made. As it goes, so go the others . . . ordinarily. If things really fall apart, if the army in particular falls apart, the Muslim Brotherhood will move. It is the only organized outfit in a position to act.

  2. TeeJaw
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Certainly, this is a spontaneous, indigenous, authentic democracy movement. That’s real. No doubt about it. Supposedly, this is what we wanted to happen in the Middle East when we went into Iraq. This was the desired outcome of the Bush Doctrine. 

    Do you think democracy in the Middle East is the desired outcome of the Obama Administration?

  3. Casey Way
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:  This was the desired outcome of the Bush Doctrine. 

    That’s a powerful statement.  I tried to find the post but failed so if my memory is wrong please correct it, but wasn’t there rioting previously where the protesters were looking to attract attention of media toward uncertain claims of abuse?  I can’t remember the country or if it was related to the student riots but for some reason that sticks out to me.  The media blackout is troubling for certain but in a riot 50,000 strong, what are reasonable and acceptable means to maintain order?  What kind of role should the USA play if we cannot get facts from the ground?

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    We owe it to them at least to try to understand what’s happening.  ·

    The above questions aren’t defending any deplorable actions but more of a personal inquiry to try and understand the entire scenario. 

  4. Claire Berlinski
    C
    TeeJaw

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Certainly, this is a spontaneous, indigenous, authentic democracy movement. That’s real. No doubt about it. Supposedly, this is what we wanted to happen in the Middle East when we went into Iraq. This was the desired outcome of the Bush Doctrine. 

    Do you think democracy in the Middle East is the desired outcome of the Obama Administration? · Jan 26 at 10:09am

    I have no idea. 

  5. KC Mulville

    Back in the day, the legend is that FDR said of Nicaragua’s Somoza that he was a bastard, but he was our bastard. 

    I’m not so sure that the Obama Administration places any degree of importance on that kind of loyalty. And in this case, it may be a strategically wise move. Maybe we can cut any ties to Mubarak without much shame.

  6. Cas Balicki

    The question is to what extent does American support of Mubarak radicalize the population? Sometimes the best thing to do is let the stuff hit the fan, because no matter what the U.S. does it will still be up to the people of Egypt to govern themselves in some fashion. This will be the case even if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over. It doesn’t look to me as if Egyptians are in a mood to replace one dictator for another. So I’m not sure that The Brotherhood won’t blow itself out if it ever gains power. But that bet is a crap shoot, and the player with the biggest roll on at the table is Israel, which might make the bet too rich to take.

  7. Sisyphus

    Bill Walsh: …

    Of course the Brotherhood is going to try and take advantage of any power vacuum, but Egypt’s vast “middle class”—which the Brotherhood came out of—remains overeducated and underemployed. Among them are many, many genuine liberals and democrats. Historically, they’ve been mostly passive in the face of dictatorship, but it seems like they’re at least a sizeable (maybe leading) part of the movement.

    Thanks for a small ray of hope, Bill. As the situation in Egypt is even more complex and tricky than a state dinner with China, our best result may come if Obama and Clinton fail to act.

  8. Nickolas
    Busy System Admin

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    US military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually. Your money, in other words, is keeping Mubarak in power.

     Why on earth do we send this kind of aid to nearly every country in the world, it appears?  Is it to buy their favor to help them be on our side on other issues? · 

    That aid is a product of Jimmah Carter’s Camp David Accords.

    At the time it was basically a bribe to Egypt to make peace with Israel and sever its ties with the Soviet Union, mostly as its military equipment supplier and adviser. Much of that aid is (or at least was) in the form of military equipment. In the 60s and 70s Egypt’s military equipment was made by the Soviets. Today much of it is American made.

     As these things go, the bribing continues.

  9. Byron Horatio

    Mubarak is a thug, and Ive said before he deserves to go up against the wall. The Shah of Iran was also an autocrat, but look at what replaced him. As VDH says, war is a choice between the better and the worse, not necessarily good and evil. We aided the genocidal Joseph Stalin against the Germans and the mass murderer Mao over the Japanese. Both of these were the right choice in my view. My suspicion is that the Muslim Brotherhod has a large part behind the scenes in these protests, and they are potentially much worse than the current police state.

  10. Sisyphus
    Busy System Admin

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    US military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually. Your money, in other words, is keeping Mubarak in power.

    Why on earth do we send this kind of aid to nearly every country in the world, it appears?  Is it to buy their favor to help them be on our side on other issues? · Jan 26 at 11:50am

    Yes.

  11. Karen

    I suspect the US gives aid to Egypt, in part because of the Suez Canal. If we can’t get our ships through there, we’re going to have problems. I hope this administration plays this right. It could get really ugly for us. 

  12. Nick Stuart

    The safest thing for the Obama administration to do short term is nothing, then whatever happens take the position that “we don’t interfere with the internal affairs of other countries like other racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, nasty Brand-X administrations that came immediately before ours.”

    Which takes us to the absolute importance of electing adults in 2012 to replace the current crew of magical thinkers.

    Meanwhile evidently what we individuals need to do is light a candle and pray our government does the right thing, although we have no idea exactly what that might be.

    Got it.

  13. Karen

    The USS Enterprise left Norfolk on Jan. 13, which puts them about in the vicinity of the Suez Canal, most likely. I think it’s worth noting the strategic role access to the Suez Canal has in our current combat operations in the Middle East. If Obama doesn’t stand behind Mubarak, as some news outlets are reporting, I’d like to know who they have in mind.

  14. Mike LaRoche
    Karen: I suspect the US gives aid to Egypt, in part because of the Suez Canal. If we can’t get our ships through there, we’re going to have problems. I hope this administration plays this right. It could get really ugly for us.  · Jan 26 at 1:44pm

    We should have let Israel keep the Sinai.

  15. Karen
    Mike LaRoche

    Karen: I suspect the US gives aid to Egypt, in part because of the Suez Canal. If we can’t get our ships through there, we’re going to have problems. I hope this administration plays this right. It could get really ugly for us.  · Jan 26 at 1:44pm

    We should have let Israel keep the Sinai. · Jan 26 at 4:07pm

    Funny you should say that, because I had a similar thought today as I was reading my daily Bible scripture (a New Year’s resolution, but I’m already behind). This week’s readings have covered the plagues of Egypt. 

  16. Bill Walsh

    It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Egypt in the Arab world and Middle East. It is, at least potentially, the one serious military power, it’s the media and cultural center of the Arab world historically, and of course, it’s home to al-Azhar (the most prestigious Islamic university), and of course it spawned the Muslim Brotherhood. The problem for outsiders is gauging just what’s going on. Of course the Brotherhood is going to try and take advantage of any power vacuum, but Egypt’s vast “middle class”—which the Brotherhood came out of—remains overeducated and underemployed. Among them are many, many genuine liberals and democrats. Historically, they’ve been mostly passive in the face of dictatorship, but it seems like they’re at least a sizeable (maybe leading) part of the movement. Of course, even if they are the dominant group, even if they win, the government will remain vulnerable to legal or illegal seizure by the MB or their ilk. I find it hard not to root for the street here, even as I try and weigh the relative undesirability of many (most?) of the outcomes.

  17. Charles Gordon

    Today, Egyptian oil production is less than 10% of the amount produced in Saudi Arabia. Egyptians may have a reputation for education, but the world wide madrasah web is powered by the Saudis. The influence from the wealth of the one far outweighs the traditions and endemic chaos of the other.

    Even if Egypt is too big of a souvenir shop full of relics to be in want of a pedestal for self-indulgent poseurs like our historic first Islamic apostate president to give a fatuous speech there; even if its people, having been trod upon by Nasser, the Soviets, and the now collapsing nascent dynasty (who does have the virtue of providing a buffer on Israel’s southern flank), is deserving of our commiseration; and, even if the Botherhood promises the next popular election will be the last—once in control—would the West be worse off if shari’ah rules their land?

    What will be lost? Our overpaid ally, a discredited dynast (whose son will find life much finer in London).

    What will be gained? These troubles will no longer be ours; Egyptians will keep them for themselves.

    Is the canal all that holds us hostage there?

  18. Richard VanderHoek

    What nascent democracy groups are there in Egypt?  I understand that many of the middle class are educated, liberal and democrat, but without some organization I fear the MB will move more quickly in establishing power.  

  19. John Marzan
    Under Mubarak’s 30 year rule, egyptians never developed a sane, pro-democracy opposition group (quick, name me a credible egyptian opposition leader). Their idea of an alternative to Mubarak is the Muslim Brotherhood. Which is the equivalent of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
  20. FeliciaB

    This is the problem with dictatorships and totalitarianism.  Once the regime is toppled, there is a serious power vacuum which gets speedily filled with the most violent opposition.  Just look at Latin America.  He who has the most weapons and amasses the highest body count wins.

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