Obama on Tuesday – “We Stand With the People of Tunisia” — Obama Friday – “We Stand With the Dictator of Egypt”
What’s the difference between the two?
There are several, but paramount is that our most selfish, ungrateful ally – Israel – prefers to be surrounded by corrupt dictators who are more willing to make sleazy, behind-the-scenes deals with an apartheid, expansionist state, than help their own people. That has worked fairly well for the Israelis for decades. It is about to come to a screeching halt.
Along with the toppling of the corrupt Tunisian government last week, came the final election results in Lebanon, with Hezbollah choosing the final configuration of the government, and publication of what have become known as “The Palestine Papers,” which show both Israeli dishonesty in dealing with the Palestinian Authority since before the Oslo Accords, and the inadequacy of many central PA figures. Thousands are demonstrating against the U.S.-backed government in Yemen; hundreds are demonstrating in Jordan. Now, we are seeing gigantic demonstrations in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
In the U.S. the GOP leadership is openly backing the Egyptian dictator. So is Vice President Biden. So is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R- MI 11): “America must stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform; and prevent a tyrranical [sic] government capable of harm.”
Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.
[T]he U.S. Chamber of Commerce maintains a network of foreign affiliates known as Amchams, “which are foreign chambers of the Chamber composed of American and foreign companies.” In Egypt, this foreign affiliate is known as the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, known in short as AmCham Egypt.
AmCham Egypt’s relation to the Mubarak dictatorship stretches back decades. In fact, the Egyptian dictator even personally intervened to create the organization. In 1981, Mubarak issued an order to allow for the creation of the AmCham by giving it an exemption from Egypt’s strict NGO laws — which help limit the influence human rights and democracy promotion organizations. Since then, the chamber has grown to have hundreds of members. While roughly 75 percent of the organization’s members are Egyptian businesses, many of them are also large Western multinational corporations, like Coca Cola and BP. The Chamber’s member companies account for nearly 20 percent of Egypt’s GDP.
When a powerful corporate-backed entity like the AmCham Egypt gains favorable treatment, it is natural for it to try to protect its patron. So last year, when a group of U.S. Senators — lead by Russ Feingold (D-WI) — introduced legislation that called on the government of Egypt to end crackdowns on pro-democracy activists and hold free and fair elections, AmCham Egypt, at the behest of the Egyptian dictatorship, sprung into action.
As Al Masra Al Youm, a major Egyptian paper, reports, the Mubarak regime tapped AmCham Egypt President Shafik Gabr to do its bidding. Gabr was “dispatched expressly” for the purpose of scuttling the bill.
Israeli officials say in private they cannot believe President Hosni Mubarak will be overthrown by the demonstrations. But if he should fall, there is no guarantee whoever might follow him will continue to tend to Israel ties.
Ordinary Egyptians have never warmed to Israel, despite more than three decades of peace, and regularly blame it for their woes.
“If Mubarak is toppled then Israel will be totally isolated in the region,” said Alon Liel, a former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a former ambassador to Turkey.
The Israelis had an awful year with their neighbors, particularly Turkey:
After successfully helping orchestrate the demands for an international panel to look into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Israelis, with their eager partners in the Obama administration, managed to stifle a similar international query into the murders of several Turks and an American, by Israeli “commandos” aboard the Turkish-flagged vessel in international waters, the MV Mavi Marmara.
The publication of The Palestine Papers has effectively finished killing any rational possibility of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Here’s Steven M. Walt:
[T]hese releases can also be read as the final obituary for the Oslo peace process. Lord knows it had been on life support for years, and most analysts have already understood it was going nowhere. In that sense, these documents aren’t really revelatory: They merely confirm what most of us had suspected ever since Obama began walking back from the Cairo speech. But what I’ve argued before is now abundantly clear: The Palestinians aren’t going to accept anything less than a viable state (plus at least symbolic acknowledgement of a “right of return”), and Israel isn’t going to offer them anything remotely close to that. (See Jeremy Pressman here for further details on the difficulties.) It’s equally clear that the United States is incapable of acting like an honest broker on this issue, despite its importance to our broader security position. That means no “two states for two peoples,” which in turn means that some future U.S. president is going to face some really awkward choices.
[I]f we step back and take a larger and longer view, it begins to look like the U.S. position in the Middle East, which seemed so dominant after the fall of the USSR and the first Gulf War, is now crumbling. Hezbollah just formed a government in Lebanon, possibly after the United States convinced former PM Saad Hariri to go back on a compromise deal over the U.N. tribunal investigating the murder of his father. Iraq is now governed by a Shiite government with extensive links to Iran and is denying the U.S. any future military role there. A democratic government in Turkey, while not anti-American, is charting an independent course. The Mubarak government in Egypt, long a close U.S. client, has been shaken, and even if it survives the current turmoil, its long-term status is up for grabs.
The problem is this: The United States has no idea how to deal with a Middle East where the voice of the people might actually be heard, rather than being subject to the writ of various aging potentates.
And having followed policies for decades that are unpopular with most of those same people, we may be about to reap the whirlwind.
Is it too late for Israel and the U.S. to avoid having to reap this “whirlwind”? Perhaps not.
One thing that struck me about the events in Tunisia was the extent to which young, educated professional women there participated. Their interests in changing the government were almost exclusively non-religious. Although the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia was almost non-existent, it is playing a part in the events in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and Gaza. What that involvement means is being spun by conservative apparatchiks here and abroad, as a sort of boogie man figure, to which it is very easy to attach the usual racist anti-Arab stereotypes and Islamaphobic labels. The young people involved in the ongoing demonstrations don’t seem comfortable with the hardliners from Islamist groups. The young populations of these countries tend to be suspicious of religious police, as they should be. The young women involved, especially those who have benefitted from higher education, generally despise conservative religious figures because of their anti-women views.
It is about time that Americans attempt to understand the role of millions of young people in these ongoing disturbances against corrupt paradigms we have so fully supported in the past.