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Egypt: Freedom On The Way?

Previously, WILLisms.com noted some strange and wondering happenings in Lebanon, including these comments from Lebanese intifada leader Walid Jumblatt:

"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

Now Egypt is showing signs of change.


Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak today announced that he intends to move Egypt toward democratic reforms. Mubarak told Egyptians:

"...that the election of the president of the republic should be made through a secret public direct voting, allowing political parties to take part in the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate to participate in the elections for the president of the republic so that people can make a free choice between them."

Egypt, currently rated "Not Free" by Freedom House (civil liberties rating- 6, political rights- 6; with 1 being best, 7 being worst), has received more than fifty billion dollars in American aid over the thirty years. The aid's main purposes:

1. Increase stability of the Egyptian regime, preventing an Islamic fundamentalist ideology from seizing power.

2. Provide incentive for Egypt, widely accepted as the leading Arab nation, to stop incessantly going to war with Israel, which would lead to peace in the region.

3. Ensure U.S. access to the Suez Canal (particularly during the Cold War).

4. Make Egypt supportive of U.S. policies and ideals in the region.

5. Help Egypt modernize its economy and its infrastructure, because it was thought that a strong economy would lead to Egypt's eventual democratization.

The aid has only served some of its intended purposes, failing miserably in others.

Egypt's inclusion in the Iraq coalition could have potentially helped frame the conflict less as "the U.S. versus Muslims," but Egypt strongly denounced the Iraq war. And why wouldn't they? If America is in the business of ridding the world of tyrannies, the Egyptian tyranny must surely be on the list somewhere.

U.S. aid to Egypt has created a sort of "Dutch Disease" effect, which simply means that the Egyptian economy has become dependent on a free lunch, so it failed to modernize and diversify the rest of its economy.

While the U.S. might have, in the short-term, staved off fundamentalist extremists from gaining power, Egypt has paradoxically become one the worst hotbeds for anti-Americanism, fueled in part by virulently anti-American state-run Egyptian media. Egyptians express deep and broad levels of hostility toward the U.S, despite the fact that U.S. dollars have provided major roads, sewage systems, power grids, and other necessities of modern life. More Egyptians know that Japan helped build the Cairo Opera House than know the U.S. has been providing tens of billions of dollars over the years; America gets ever-diminishing returns on its foreign aid to Egypt.

Of those Egyptians who do realize America has provided vast sums of money to Egypt over the years feel that the U.S. is propping up a corrupt and tyrannical regime, the regime of Hosni Mubarak.


Mubarak said that the proposed reform,

"...allows for the first time in Egypt's political history the opportunity to all who have the ability to give, the desire to serve the country, to cope with the responsibility of protecting people's achievements and providing care for the people and their future, to submit their nominations, within a framework of the parliamentarian and popular support, for the direct election of the president of the republic."

Perhaps the most telling part of Mubarak's speech, however, was this line:

"...this historical decisive moment is the fruit of economic stability which we enjoy."

You think Mubarak's actions are due to his wonderful benevolence, out of the goodness of his heart? Mubarak knows that in order for Egypt to continue receiving U.S. money, the status quo is not going to cut it. U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice cancelled her trip to Egypt after Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour was jailed.

But those are not the only reasons.

It is also happening because Egyptians have witnessed the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, Egyptians have witnessed the power of freedom, and they are now demanding a taste.

Mubarak is seeking reforms, because he has no choice. Egypt is much like the ungrateful teenager who refuses to do the chores but still expects an allowance. But no more. The parent, the U.S., after years of neglecting to require anything in return for the aid, has finally decided to put its foot down.

The conversation probably went something like this:
If you, Egypt, are to keep receiving gobs of American money every year, you are going to earn it, starting with, but not limited to, election reforms. Period. End of story. Now get to it. Now.

The old foreign policy calculus involved looking the other way when a regime like Egypt's abused the rights of its citizens. Afterall, what happens in Egypt, stays in Egypt. A nation has a sovereign right to govern its own people in whatever way it wishes, the old thinking went. Indeed, a member of Mubarak's administration recently echoed these sentiments when Dr. Rice expressed displeasure to Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit about Mr. Nour's incarceration. The New York Times:

"After the meeting, Mr. Gheit protested that Mr. Nour's arrest was an internal Egyptian matter, and Suleiman Awad, the spokesman for President Hosni Mubarak, said he rejected 'any foreign interference in Egypt's internal affairs.'"

In the past, Egypt could get away with such an argument. No longer, however. Beginning with President George W. Bush, the U.S. now links the way it treats other regimes with the way those regimes treat their citizens. Additionally, America can no longer afford to assume that what happens within the borders of a sovereign nation, stay within the borders of that sovereign nation (Does the name of Egyptian Mohammed Atta ring a bell?).

It is a good policy change. And it clearly is working.


The Pajama Hadin blog notes:

"Quite an amazing development indeed. Open elections! Secret Ballot! Freedom of the Press! Historic indeed. Let us hope (for Egypt, the Middle East, and the world) that Mubarak's commitment to this is as profound as the import of his proclamation."

Meanwhile, Captain's Quarters Blog has some worthwhile comments:

"Once again, we see the transformative power of democracy and the fulfillment of the so-called 'neocon' philosophy of security through democratization. Egypt has produced some of the most radical -- and dangerously Westernized -- terrorists of the past generation, including Ayman al-Zwahiri, al-Qaeda's number two under Osama bin Laden. With the ability to express political dissent through the ballot box instead of the bomb, Egypt's moves hold the promise of defusing one of the main intellectual producers of terror in the region....

The question will be how the American media can cover this without having to credit American policy in the region. Can CNN and the New York Times ignore free Egyptian elections? We'll see."


Patrick Ruffini explains that "Egypt's Velvet Revolution" validates President Bush's comments leading up to the Iraq war:

"First Palestine. Then Iraq. Then Lebanon. And now Egypt. Not bad for a month's work....

Today, President Bush's predictions in this major policy address before the war in Iraq look dead on:

'A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.'

This is exactly how diplomacy (and a little firepower) in the service of freedom should work. You push, you push, you push, until liberty prevails."

Posted by Will Franklin · 26 February 2005 05:11 PM