Reflections on our Egypt ways and means

Paolo Martini
Milan, Italy

This is not the first time that the US has supported a brutal dictatorship abroad in the interests of denying its "enemies" control, however legitimate. The opposition, largely Islamic but not fanatical, is smart not to try to cash in on its popular base immediately, as the US and Israel don't want them in power, and it would give them an excuse to support a military takeover. A secular figure now and the Islamic Brotherhood after the first truly free election. Does the US really value democracy outside its own borders, or does it take a more pragmatic approach (voting's good, but not when you elect someone we don't like, like Hamas or Allende)? We shall see.
Karachi, Pakistan
Many of the readers’ comments (albeit not the majority of comments on the Times’ blogosphere) indicate that they are viewing the current events in Egypt either through the prism of what happened in Iran or its likely impact on Israel. Many of these commenters who assume that the Islamists will be triumphant in Egypt, as well they might be in a free and fair election but this is certainly not a given are, I dare say, probably ignorant of the difference between a Shia or Sunni Muslim (Iran having largely a Shia population and Egypt largely a Sunni one) or the fact that in many of the larger Islamic countries (by population) in which elections have been held the Islamists have not fared well. To wit, in Indonesia the share of the Islamic parties in parliamentary elections declined from 38 percent in 2004 to under 26 percent in 2009. In Bangladesh the share of the vote in the 2008 parliamentary elections for the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami was under 5 percent. And in that poster boy for Islamic extremism, my country Pakistan, the share of the vote bank for the out-and-out Islamic parties in 2008 was a resounding 3 percent, down from the 10 percent high water mark that the religious right attained in 2002. The point here is that people may profess any religion but when push comes to shove they vote on ‘bread and butter’ issues especially in countries where the bulk of the population is living on the margins of bare survival.

Let us also remember that the much reviled rule by the Ayatollahs in Iran was not an inevitable historical outcome. Events might have evolved differently if successive US governments had not given the Shah of Iran and his dreaded goon squad, Savak, a free hand to stifle all dissent and murder and/or torture all opponents after the toppling of the elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 with the assistance of the CIA. Maybe, just maybe, Iran would have traveled along a different historical trajectory sans the Shah’s reign of terror.

And this is not about Israel and its relationship with Egypt. This is about the Egyptian people’s struggle to restore their fundamental right to democratic freedoms and human dignity. If Israel wants security and stability in the region then it must make a sincere attempt to negotiate with the Palestinians for the formation of a viable Palestinian state. So far they have not done so as is amply demonstrated by the contents of the leaked ‘Palestine papers’ published by the Guardian. Anything less will only store up problems for the future till such time that another ‘black swan’ event erupts.

Gee- pretty soon- the only "Islamic totalitarian" governments will be those allied with the US- like those that were installed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tell us again all you serious and responsible two party lock-steppers- all you mainstream liberals and conservatives- tell us all about how the US is bestest most moralist greatest number one-ness country in the world that just acts out of the goodness of our bigger and better hearts for the whole wide world? Still gonna tell yourselves that fairy tale?

And where are our "leaders" on this? Well- given the fact that American leaders actually have the nerve to demand that their puppets in Afghanistan and Iraq thank America for invading them- and tell them that they must "earn our presence" in the countries- well- let's just say- that reality and common human decency are not evident in Washington (or much of America for that matter.)
St. Louis
Who was the moron who shipped tear gas canisters to Egypt with "Made in the USA" stamped all over it? Now we've got Egyptians picking the darn things up in the street and showing them to the international press and the world. If you are planning on providing the tools to autocratic regimes to crush democratic movements (which I don't advocate), at least show a little Machiavellian craft and stamp something like "Made in China" or "Made in North Korea" on them. Really, there isn't much left these days that is stamped "Made in the USA"....let's not be known for not producing much more than tear gas canisters anymore.
Providence RI
It's not easy to see how thousands of prisoners could have broken out of four different prisons without the government's acquiescence.
New York, NY
Is the American agenda in the Middle East doomed?

In order of importance: for Israel, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and incidentally, even Afghanistan, all major foci of American interests and diplomatic initiative, this populist coup d'etat bodes nothing but disaster and defeat for US hegemony, and its principle agents, in the region.

Israel now faces alone the real prospect of a two-front future war with the loss of its last "partner in peace", and thus must begin to make huge domestic sacrifices in preparation for same; Shiite Iraq and Iran, enjoying the rock-solid support of their people (with the every-ready and convenient cement of anti-Americanism), will now encourage further "people's revolutions" in subversion of their Sunni American stooge rivals; Saudi Arabia, one of the most brutal, backward, and authoritarian (hence, unstable) regimes in the world, must be even now stocking up on tear gas and tasers in anticipation of this "democratic fever" infecting its people; Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza must be near giddy at the prospect that their truly majoritarian populist support will now, finally, democratically, bring them almost immediate political power. Indeed, the aftershocks of this Egyptian earthquake shall be felt as far afield as Kabul, where similarly corrupt and despotic Quislings, on seeing America unable to maintain so major a player as Mubarak in power (what with billion-dollars bribes and Pentagon protegees), are now busily googling extradition-free bailiwicks to which to absquatulate to with billions of our tax dollars.

Let freedom ring!

Power to the People!

It has never, ever been a good thing for America's militarist elite wherever and whenever such chants have broken out in earnest and with real effect and meaning.
Tynan Kelly
Beirut, Lebanon
Be very, very wary of progress in Egypt. It's problems are far deeper than a corrupt government. Egypt can't move on alone. It can't with even the help of a unified Arab world. Please don't think "Facebook" has led to people being able to change things more quickly. Rather, it allows them to demonstrate how angry many are. ElBaradei may be well educated, but most Egyptians are not (even those with a college degree). It's far easier to be loud and angry, to criticize than it is to know how to implement such change. Does anyone remember the "popular revolution" in Lebanon five years ago? Things are different now, because Syria is gone, but there are many views on the quality of this difference. Don't only think of Egypt in the weeks to come, but what it is going to be in five years.
Durham, NC
We are a secular society in America. That is why people work on Christmas Day (which is a Christian religious holiday) and Easter. We are so secular that Christian churches pay taxes (wait a minute- they don't). And none of our leaders preach their religion to the public. Our Courts do not consider, or post, the Ten Commandments (yes they do) and our leaders do not swear on a Bible (yes they do). Our national songs, and money, do not reference a Christian god (yes they do).
So what if Egyptian democracy means Muslims (Islamists) get elected? We elect Christians all the time. Many people here, in America, vote for the most Christian candidate. Last time I checked Israel elects Jewish leaders.
I just cannot understand the fear of Muslims and Islam. I live in a country where 90+% of the convicted murderers in prison are Christian. Should Christians be afraid of themselves? Timothy McVeigh was a Christian. Should we ban Christians from holding office? Our Christian Presidents have started every war in our history. Our Christian leaders have owned people like property. Why just single out Islam?
Give the Egyptians the chance to elect a representative government. They may surprise us and vote for leaders who will be concerned about helping the people. They at least deserve the chance to try.
Our leaders aren't very good at taking care of our country- why should they be allowed to have any say in Egypt?
New York
Before anyone gets too excited by the gesture of the Islamists to support a secular leader, and "democracy," let us not forget the Iranian experience. A similar scenario was launched by the Iranian Islamists wherein they “partnered” with the democracy and freedom seeking university students and professors, along with the communists and the Islamists, (tricking them all), only to have the rug pulled out from under them as the real agenda took hold, the academics and the communists were suppressed and then swept aside once the Islamists took control of the military and police.

Iran today is a brutal totalitarian theocracy worse than what it replaced, with women's rights turned back to the middle ages, where women are stoned to death for adultery, where people who engaged in protests or who challenged the regime in any way are jailed or disappear, or are labeled spies or traitors and executed. Where Iran was a center of learning and higher education with a vibrant professional class and economy prior to the takeover by the ayatollahs, and a staunch ally of the US and the west, the Islamic extremists now in control have turned Iran into the major facilitator of terror and instability in the region, creating a network of satellite client states and client terror operatives with a stagnant economy, despite its immense energy wealth.

What is needed in Egypt is to defuse the emotional momentum and rush to change and bring about a measured, sequential process where a transition to real democracy can take place without the risk of it being hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some kind of national transitional congress proportionately representing the different components of Egyptian society should be convened over the next several months, after being carefully formed through interim meetings with the reconfigured version of the current government. The current government should commit itself to such a process leading to democracy, including a clear and definitive outline of the steps so as to defuse the emotions and transform them into positive, constructive actions.
New York, NY
According to a friend that was in Tahrir yesterday and reached via landline last night, Baradei's back was to the majority of protesters and his face was toward journalists. The reason for the crowd to "surge toward Baradei" was because of the assembled reporters. Why twist these facts in the story? Baradei is largely unknown in Egypt, and those that know him often mention his love of five-star hotels. 

IAEA Director General Mohammad El-Baradei WASHINGTON — When President Obama unexpectedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, one predecessor was quick to applaud his selection for the award.

“I could not have thought of any other person that is more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama,” Mohamed ElBaradei, then the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a videotaped statement. He went on to praise Mr. Obama’s commitment “to restore moral decency” to the lives of people around the world.

But on Sunday, Mr. ElBaradei, now a prominent face of the opposition on the streets of Cairo, was sounding a different tune. “The American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy,” Mr. ElBaradei told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He called the United States’ refusal to openly abandon President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt “a farce.”

Mr. ElBaradei, 68, had a fractious relationship with the Bush administration, one so hostile that Bush officials tried to get him removed from his post at the atomic watchdog agency. But as Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition on the streets of Cairo have increasingly coalesced around Mr. ElBaradei to negotiate on their behalf, the Obama administration is scrambling to figure out whether he is someone with whom the United States can deal.


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