Damned If You Don't

The possible-to-likely disintegration of Mubarak’s regime in Egypt leaves the United States in a very difficult position. Hosni Mubarak’s government has been very close to the United States for as long as he’s been in power; America owes him, unfortunately, and we can’t really pull the rug out from under him without panicking our other autocratic allies and ally-ish types in the region, most notably the House of  Saud.

On the other hand, there is growing indications that the protests of today are nearing a tipping point. CNN is reporting that the military is joining in protests, at least in Cairo. If true, that means that Mubarak’s time in office may now be measured in hours. And America can’t not back the protesters, because should they gain control of Egypt, they will be in charge of the Suez, a border with Israel, and a key point in the crossroads of the Middle East.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement shows just what a tightrope the Obama administration is trying to walk:

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters, and we call on the Egyptian Goverment to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.

We support the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, including the right to freedom of speech, of association, and of assembly. We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications.

These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society and Egyptian Government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away. As President Obama said yesterday, reform is absolutely critical to the well-being of Egypt.

Egypt has long been an important partner of the United States on a wide range of regional issues. As a partner, we strongly believe that the Egyptian Government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political, and social reforms. We continue to raise with the Egyptian Government — as we do with other governments in the region — the imperative for reform and greater openness and participation to provide a better future for all. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and their Government to realise their aspirations, to live in a democratic society that respects basic human rights.

That addresses the fundamental tensions in the U.S. position here — the desire to back a stable ally, cutting against the desire to support the sort of democratic and social rights that have been our nation’s raison d’être.

Ultimately, I tend to agree with Brian Whittaker that the Obama Administration is looking to salvage the situation in a way that gets Mubarak out of Egypt safely, turns control over to a secular government (likely military in the short term, hopefully at least quasi-democratic in the long term), and hopefully protects American interests with regard to Israel and the Suez.  The hope is that the future government of Egypt will be one that shows at least as much respect for human rights as the present one, with less corruption and more democracy. But we’ll see. The situation is fluid right now, and where things go from here is anyone’s guess.

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7 Responses to Damned If You Don't

  1. 1
    Jenny says:

    I think the Cairo citizens are more upset because Egypt’s supportive of Israel. I say, let the people make their own government!

  2. 2
    Jenny says:

    Further more, the US is likely just gonna be replace Mubarack hwith another Egyptian dictator:

  3. 3
    Jeff Fecke says:

    Well, if you enjoy war, then yes, it would be great if Egypt took a more confrontational stance toward Israel. I don’t enjoy war, myself.

    As for your suggestion that the US has a dictator waiting in the wings, I think you overestimate how much control the US has of this situation. We have none. If we did, we’d stick with Mubarak, because he’s the devil we know.

  4. 4
    Robert says:

    I don’t enjoy war, myself.


    I have no brief for the current regime, but I fret over what is likely to replace it. An axis between militant Islamists and militant Marxists seems most likely, and that would end up being very ugly.

    But I don’t know enough to have a serious opinion, so I just fret.

  5. 5
    Elkins says:

    But I don’t know enough to have a serious opinion, so I just fret.

    Yep, that’s pretty much where I am too. “Gosh, this could go so many different ways…I just hope everything turns out okay.” Very sophisticated political analysis, I know, but it’s all I got.

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    A relatively peaceful turnover to a secular democratic government seems best-case to me. Mubarak is another example of a man who has found out that it’s easier to get on the tiger than it is to get off. If he gets to go into exile he’ll be lucky.

    I too fear that an Islamic theocratic fascist regime may come into power. The Iranian subjects can tell them that it’s not a long-term solution for freedom and liberty.

  7. 7
    Jenny says:

    “Well, if you enjoy war, then yes, it would be great if Egypt took a more confrontational stance toward Israel. I don’t enjoy war, myself.”

    It doesn’t have to be combat based, they can impose economic sanctions.