I hesitate to try to analyze the events surrounding the popular democratic uprising in Egypt. The situation is so fluid and the play of events changes so rapidly that any commentary is immediately rendered out of date by occurrences on the street. Perhaps a description of some of the larger issues at play will be of help in our attempt to reach a deeper understanding.
Since the discovery of oil in the Middle East and prior to 911, there has been a struggle between two primary forces for control of the governments in the region. The fundamentalist Islamists and the more Western influenced Muslim secularists have two contrasting approaches to government. The Islamists fronted by the 83 year-old Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt traditionally have sought, through largely peaceful means, the establishment of an Islamic theocracy. They mean to do this initially by democratic elections. Of course, like all theocracies, once they are in power, Western-style democracy essentially ends. The Islamists have been met with strong resistance under secular rule, most notably in Iran (prior to our deposing of Mosaddeq in1952), Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and in Egypt under Nasser after 1956.
In the historic, political struggles in Egypt we find a microcosm of the main issues that have united and divided the Middle East for generations. Western interests (particularly US and British oil interests) have exerted the strongest most pernicious influences in the area. Our perceived short-term foreign policy goals internationally, have always favored stability over democracy. Democracy has too often been actively opposed when we perceived it threatened stability and/or our access to oil. The result has been a foreign policy founded on a kind of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand we have Obama and Sec. of State Clinton on our newscasts, espousing the virtues of peaceful transitions and democracy in Egypt, while their emissaries, people like Frank Wisner, are meeting behind closed doors with Egyptian leaders (VP, Suleiman) in an attempt to guarantee essentially the same brutal “stability” that has characterized Egyptian rule for generations. To reemphasize, the US is not interested in the encouragement of democracy in the Middle East.
I am not prepared to argue whether, since the post WWII Marshal Plan, we have ever had a primary, long-term interest in democracy in any part of the world. At the present time there are only two main interests driving our foreign policy in the world in general and in Egypt in particular: We feel we must establish and maintain allies who are our partners in our “War on Terror.” Whether these allies are governments who maintain control by despotic means are of little concern to American presidents. The second interest driving our world objectives is our unqualified support for Israel, right or wrong. We care little about the outcome of democracy in Egypt as long as the Egyptian/Israel peace treaty of 1979 is maintained.
You may notice I placed quotation marks around “War on Terror.” I did this because I believe, with evidence, that this “War” is one largely of our own making. Terrorism has now become a loudly touted third element vying for control of the region. The evolution of the Islamic terrorists (technically called Islamasists), is a phenomenon forged under our own support of the repressive regimes of strong men like Nasser who tortured, killed and finally banned members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The non-violent objectives of the theocratic Muslim Brotherhood have been supplanted on the world stage by the likes of Osama bin Laden and his mentor, Ayman al-Zawahiri who see no chance of a peaceful coexistence between what they regard as the autocratic, decadent, violent, corrupt Muslim secularists and the pure messengers of Allah (blessed be his name). The United States must bear a large share of responsibility for the success of terrorism in the Muslim world.
First of all, the pursuit of our oil interests has had an irredeemably corrupting influence on the entire region. This has provided the kind of fertile soil in which dissatisfaction grows. Second, in our obsession for preserving stability, we have suppressed regimes that might have allowed for popular Western-friendly Muslim governments (including theocracies) to flourish. Third, our attempt to check the Soviet influence in Afghanistan caused us to fund and empower extremist elements who were ultimately opposed to all imperialism—including our own. Fourth, we allowed Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s “Planes Operation” (aka 911) to occur and have an impact far beyond any Islamisist’s wildest fantasies.
At the time of the 1998 attacks on our embassies in Africa, al Qaeda was a small, largely discredited subset within the Afghanistan training camps. These camps had no interest in leading attacks upon the West, but were only interested in overthrowing secular Muslim governments. The thought of attacking Western countries was anathema to the freedom fighters of Afghanistan. I am no 9/11 Truther, but I believe that the events of that infamous day were used create the fictional “War on Terror” the lies of which continue to be a greater threat to our democracy than the Islamisists ever could be.
I am hoping soon that Mubarak will step down and Egypt will be on its way toward a true, popular democracy free of the traditional oppression of both despotic rulers and undue American and Israeli influence. Unfortunately, my familiarity with the history of the region makes me skeptical that our president will ever allow such an outcome.
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