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It's Time for America to Get Tough with Egyptian Government

Tuesday, February 01, 2011 - 08:41 AM

Thousands of Egyptians gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square heeding a call by the opposition for a 'march of a million' on February 1, 2011 (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty)

While our response to the democratic uprising in Egypt should be considered with care, the choice before the Obama administration could hardly be more clear.

Giving military aid to countries like Egypt is supposed to come in exchange for a modicum of influence. Perhaps that made sense during the years following the wars the Egyptians fought with Isreal, but what are we getting in return for $2 billion every year? They certainly aren’t listening to us by respecting the most basic rights of their own citizens. As a matter of fact, they’re using some of our aid directly in the effort to suppress them. The imagery of American-made tear gas being used against these brave people is about as apt as you can get in this respect.

The absurdity of Obama’s hesitation to lend moral support to the Egyptian people was made even more clear to me, as I listened to Sean Hannity on my drive home from work the other day. A break in the program had a segment from Fox News Radio, that mentioned that the uprising was mostly regular Egyptians, sick of decades of repression. The report went on to say there was no indication that the Muslim Brotherhood, an extreme political faction that wishes to see Sharia law in place over all of the Muslim world, was involved with organizing the marches, and every indication that they had been holding back to see what happened before deciding what to do. Hannity came on, and comically went on a tirade about how this is apparently cover for another Iranian style Islamic Revolution.

Yasser El-Shimy, writing for Foreign Policy, is spot on in saying:

The chants for justice, liberty, and human dignity reveal the depth of Egyptians' discontent, and their aspiration for a democratic system. The Islamists, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, did not officially partake in the initial demonstrations (though the Brothers have announced their support for Friday's protests). Like Tunisia, Egypt is flirting with a democratic revolution, not an Islamist takeover.

There is no indication that these people want to wipe Isreal off the face of the Earth. They don’t hate America. They don’t want to support the export of terrorism. They don’t want to give Al-Qaeda safe haven.

These people want voting rights. They want a government that comes from them, not from the pocket of a dictator. They want freedom to say what they believe without being thrown in prison and tortured.

The whole argument coming from those who say we should not take sides can be boiled down to “stability through suppression is more important that freedom.” But the picture on the street does not suggest that a post-Mubarak Egypt will be a breeding ground for anti-Western sentiment. The history of such uprisings suggest it is much more likely to be more of an ally, and more stable, rather than the other way around.

For every Iran, there are several examples of uprisings that led to better conditions, more stability and better relations with the West. The Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, unsuccessful efforts like the Green Revolution in Iran, and the Lawyer’s Movement that eventually led to the end of the Musharraf regime in Pakistan are examples from just the last generation. Much like the Velvet Revolution led to uprisings in other Eastern Bloc coutries, the successful ouster of the Tunisian dictator has spread and hopefully will spread even farther.

We’re not taking the lead here. The tens of thousands of Egyptians in the streets are on the front lines, risking their lives, crying for the freedoms we take for granted every day, and we can’t even give them more than glancing verbal support? We are supposed to be satisfied with a call from Obama for Mubarak to make reforms that nobody is under any illusion he will enact?

I don’t think it at all inappropriate to rescind any further military aid until a list of basic democratic reforms are in place, including freedom of the press. I don’t believe it grandstanding for the President of the United States of America to come out unequivocally for their right to democratic self-determination. Whether it has any chance of passing or not, it would not be an empty gesture to bring a motion to the United Nations to call for open elections, monitored by international observers.

In fact, not doing these things could hardly be more hypocritical, and in the long run will likely harm our relations with those who are sure to eventually take the reigns of power away from Mubarak. Perhaps most importantly, we’ll be living up to the expectation that America is a beacon of hope for those living under repressive regimes worldwide.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.

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