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Monday, January 31, 2011

Clinton Finally Uses the D-word, Democracy -- Will Mubarak Take Heed?

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton resisted calls to explicitly tell Mubarak to step down when she was on a handful of morning talk shows on Sunday, but she did for the first time in the official US response to the Egyptian unrest use the d-word, democracy. Ms. Clinton said on CNN “Both existing and any new members of any government [must] take concrete steps toward democratic and economic reform,” and highlighted the carefully calibrated “transition” wording that is now being used with regards to an end-game scenario in Egypt.

As the situation on the ground has been rapidly changing over the past few days, so too has the language that Western officials have used to show their support, or lack of it, of the aging dictator. Obama made vague mentions of support for ‘democratic aspirations’ in his State of the Union which coincided with the first few days of the unrest. The gaffe-prone Biden said on Friday that Mubarak was actually not a dictator. Now the administration seems to have adopted a new stance, stemming from the continued unrest over the weekend, which depicts an increasingly weak and fragile government. Indeed many nations all over the world are calling for some sort of democratic transition, but refraining from calling for Mubarak to step down.

Fears that a radical movement could fill the vacuum of power that Mubarak’s absence would bring reverberate throughout many foreign official's concerns of a regime change in Egypt. Many commentators are suggesting that the protests could be hijacked by fundamentalists, and would result in another Iran-like theocratic state.

While we should fear the radicalization of the presently secular protests, we should even more so fear deeper alienating the democratic process by imposing our influence over what should be a matter decided upon by Egyptians. Not Americans, not Britons, not Israelis or Chinese, but by the Egyptian people alone. Not to mention the fact that the protests seem to be largely secular anyway and that the most prominent Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has agreed to take a backseat in the forming of a new government. But US support of any one person or candidate is much more a burden than a help. The popularity of the United States is still quite low because of increasing belligerence in the region over the last decade, and if we do decide to back any one candidate over another then we will only be pushing moderate Egyptians towards radical solutions.

While US restraint on publicly stating Mubarak should step down is frustrating, especially considering we’re the country with the most leverage in Egypt given the aid we give, no other countries are calling for the dictator to step down either. No European country is saying that, nor China, nor India, or Japan either. In some respects this tact has already achieved perhaps game changing results. The New York Times reported that the "EU Institute for Security Studies said Mubarak’s regime was ‘beyond the point of reforming.’ The appointment of Omar Suleiman as vice president ‘indicates that the army, probably prodded by the U.S. administration, has accepted that Mubarak must leave.’”

Consider this statement made by British Prime Minister David Cameron: “There needs to be a proper, orderly transition to a more democratic situation, where there are greater rights, greater freedoms, better rule of law…It is very important that, whether it is President Obama or me, we are not saying who should run this country or that country.” We would do well to heed his advice and continue to limit our involvement to calling for general reform and continuing to use the military aid we give as leverage. Indeed it seems that these actions have already reaped handsome rewards.

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