While the right of people everywhere to determine their destiny is fundamental, as US president Barack Obama readily acknowledges, this precept is systematically ignored by many political leaders or suppressed whenever it runs contrary to the interests of entrenched elites or strategic goals of powerful nations. Though the deficiency of suppressing that right is periodically tested by popular revolts, these leaders continue to stay the course. This has the effect of fueling a cycle of violence that tear up the social fabric of the affected nation. Most importantly, on the day of reckoning, the specter of instability is invariably used as a rationale by these leaders to deflect or block out the people’s anger. What is happening in Egypt is a case in point.
Indeed a radical political change in Egypt, similar to what happened in Iran (circa 1979), would be disastrous to US national security interests in the region. Lebanon is on shaky ground; Jordan could be next and the mother of them all, Saudi Arabia, will then become the focus of anti-US and western sentiments in the Arab world. For that reason, Washington must forcefully and unequivocally demand that Hosni Mubarak step down because historically street revolutions’ objectives changed from one hour to the next. Any prolongation of Mubarak’s rule in the face of such spontaneous and widespread revolt may be regarded by the protesters as having Washington’s explicit blessing. As a result, grassroots support for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and best organized political party, could swell to the point where it threatens the secular outlook of the Egyptian state.
After 30 years in power, Mubarak is clearly disconnected from the reality. Having received 85% of the vote in the 2006 presidential election, which was neither free nor fair, the 82 year-old president may have thought that he was in fact indispensable and enjoyed the support of the Egyptian people. This is a man who, as vice-president, became president following the assassination of Anwar Al-Sadat in 1981, yet chose not to have a stand-in successor for the last 10 years. Like many dictators before him, Mubarak must have felt that he was infallible and immortal. Most importantly, for a man trying to quell a revolt that started over human rights abuses by his security forces, his appointment of Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief, as vice-president, was somewhat bizarre. It implied that continuity meant more to Hosni Mubarak than the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, which he cavalierly ignored throughout his rule.
Because the world media is taken with the notion of a social network revolution in Egypt powered by Twitter and Facebook, it fails to connect the upheaval to the downside effects of globalization. Egypt’s economy has had robust growth for many years, yet more Egyptians are having trouble making ends meet, a clear indication of a vacuum between the positive side of economic liberalism and the reality facing the majority of the population. Any jump in prices or shortages of basic foods will produce many of these popular revolts throughout the developing world, but the architects of globalization see no need for corrective measures.
Though the initial protests were about the crushing poverty affecting 40% of the population, high unemployment, endemic corruption and the systemic repression that epitomize the Mubarak regime (1981-?), the objectives of the protesters can easily evolve from wanting to fix these irregularities to doing away with the system altogether. In that regard, Washington should heed the wisdom of the late French president, Charles de Gaulle, who famously stated “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” Abandoning a trusted friend and ally, who was too obstinate for his own good, may be morally reprehensible but hold long-term benefits for the US, since its national security
At the 2011 Davos World Economic Forum, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, admitted that a process of change is happening in Egypt but pointed out the need to manage it because obscure forces might try to take advantage of the situation. Indeed the process of change in Egypt can only be managed as long as the initiative comes from the government. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Therefore, the longer the crisis persists, the more difficult it will be for the Egyptian establishment and the West to influence the outcome and prevent a takeover of the country’s future by radical forces. Ironically Mubarak is a victim of his own success, a fact that could prove problematic to solving the crisis, because he cannot negotiate with an unruly mob of angry citizens. Had he tolerated a middle-of-the-road political opposition, today he would have a legitimate partner to negotiate a smooth transition and avert chaos in the most politically significant Arab country. Fortunately for the US, Egypt is presently not in danger of falling prey to Al-Qeada or other radical Islamists because its powerful army, as in Pakistan and Turkey, acts the guardian of the secular order.
Repression is not the nucleus of stability, as history is littered with the carcasses of regimes that behaved otherwise but were swept away by the universal appeal of human rights. Hence, the Mubarak-types of this world must heed this judgment of history and abandon their propensity to use repression as an antidote to the legitimate aspirations of their people, if the cycle of violence and destruction were to end.
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