I was listening to an interesting conversation about the uprising in Egypt; and two well-known media personalities were commenting about, what impact the protests might have on the United States. They both agreed that democracy for anyone, for everyone was a good thing, and somewhere “darker,” they also both agreed that a democratic Egypt might not be optimum for the United States right now.
I had always thought that even with being on the wrong side of slavery and civil rights, America was an agent for freedom, a voracious advocate for democracy around the world – yet somehow, someway – democracy for Egypt might be a bad thing for America – hmmm.
I learned that we live in real-world instances when a country — its political apparatus, moves through more of a Realpolitik than human rights or civil rights initiatives, but why? Interests and leverage – if you pinpoint the reason why any individual or group seeks power, it’s rarely money alone: it’s usually the ability to be actionable towards their interests, and the money and influence, is how they can turn their ideas and principles into tangible movements, which expand their worldview.
In Obama the Realist, Ross Douthat stated, “Obama’s response to the Egyptian crisis has crystallized his entire foreign policy vision. Switch on Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, and you would assume that there’s a terrible left-wing naïveté — or worse, a sneaking anticolonial sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood — at work in the White House’s attempts to usher Hosni Mubarak out the door. But look closer, and it’s clear that the administration’s real goal has been to dispense with Mubarak while keeping the dictator’s military subordinates very much in charge. If the Obama White House has its way, any opening to democracy will be carefully stage-managed by an insider like Omar Suleiman, the former general and Egyptian intelligence chief who’s best known in Washington for his cooperation with the C.I.A.’s rendition program. This isn’t softheaded peacenik dithering. It’s cold-blooded realpolitik.” I guess that’s freedom (kinda).
So why would the United States want Egypt to be democratic, while really not wanting it to be democratic? It’s simple – interests and leverage. American interests are deeply aligned and defined with Hosni Mubarak’s past regime – yes, he stagnated the country’s growth, interrupted innovation and intentionally reduced the connectivity of Egypt to the rest of the world, especially for Egypt’s younger populations, but as far as the United States is concerned, Mubarak had been a stable influence in an often volatile region. And as of today, just minutes ago, Mubarak is gone – now what?
American political, military and economic (oil) interests are concerned that a more “hardlined” government (Muslim Brotherhood) will take the place of the current Egyptian government, and America will be out of sync with the new government, while also having no indigenous actors that can, or are wiling to speak on their behalf. America will soon be the most powerful country in the world, without a voice in the most important region of the world – troubling.
The television commentators kept pointing out that the American military gives more than one-billion dollars annually to Egypt, which should keep American interests appropriated as in the past. American foreign policy and military experts should know, that the Egyptian people have never seen any of that one-billion dollars: money that has never touched Egypt’s infrastructure, economic or employment initiatives or social services etc. The one-billion never left the coffers of the highest political and military authorities, so that will not be a carrot or a stick that America can offer to quell a people’s revolution. You cannot scare people into a more accommodating position, by telling them that you are going to take away, what they never had.
In the last few weeks, America has seen awakenings within the Middle East; sleepy, poor countries — now bursting with nationalism and demanding their piece of the twenty-first century — demanding their opportunity to join the rest of the world in shaping the future. Youth populations in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Algeria (now protesting), and “possibly,” Bahrain, Libya and Syria, are demanding their moment – and I believe they will have it.
America also worries about the effect the uprising will have on the geopolitics of Israel , and it should. Israel, one of America’s strongest allies becomes more precariously positioned, because no one really knows what position a “new Egypt” takes with Israel, and how influential that will be within the rest of the Arab states. Without Egypt providing “cover” for Israel within the region, and with Israel not close to a realistic plan and partnership with Palestine, Israel becomes even more isolated — suddenly more intolerable, which is worst case scenario for both Israel and the United States. Now that Mubarak has stepped down, America’s big question about Egypt — does it become Turkey or Iran?
So my question — should America want the right thing because it’s the right thing or only want the right thing for America’s interests. As an American, I have to admit, I am comforted by the protections and amenities the United States offers me to pursue a seemingly autonomous living history, but at what cost to others, and if I’m honest, do I really care, as long as the amenities remain unchanged? That’s the complexity of these issues; the very thing that makes us strong, debilitates someone else from having the very same freedoms, rights and opportunities as we have, and is that fair, or am I looking at this with naivete, as opposed to cold-blooded realism?
As not just Americans, but as citizens of the world, what does America stand for – do we know – are you sure? Are we only the American dream when it serves our interests, are we are something bigger than that? What is the balance between what we need, and what other people need — and what they might actually need from us, or does it matter at all, as long as we get what we need?
I would love to hear what you think – how do we strike the right balance, between our geopolitical needs and the needs of others?