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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

White House Backpedals in Support of Democratic Transition in Egypt

Just a week ago, White House Officials made a stunning policy decision to reverse decades of support for brutal dictator and strategic ally, Hosni Mubarak. Many commentators, myself included, were elated that after 30 years of collaborating with the Egyptian government, America might finally cast itself on the right side of history.

But, in a de facto 180-policy reversal, Hilary Clinton and other US officials have begun to backpedal from their initial decision to call for Mubarak’s immediate departure over the last few days. Mrs. Clinton claimed on Sunday that removing Mubarak too hastily would threaten the country’s transition to democracy, since there’s not enough time for the opposition to prepare and for government election policies to be revamped. The White House seems to be getting closer and closer to Frank Wisner’s comments that Mubarak should remain in the picture a while longer, even though officials have distanced themselves from the former diplomat’s remarks.

The sincerity of US statements regarding the future Egyptian government will, unfortunately, only be determined by time. For now, though, the mixed signals from public officials can only cause doubt with regards to whether or not we expressed our support of the Egyptian people because it was politically expedient, or because we truly do stand behind the democratic aspirations of all people (which is what Obama claimed in his State of the Union). Maybe we are beginning to see why that speech was utterly lacking in specifics.

Last weeks remarks were markedly different from this week. I was initially proud of Obama’s speech last Tuesday, when he said, “an orderly transition [in Egypt] must begin now.” And if that wasn’t enough, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs the next day clarified that “’now’ started yesterday.” It seemed that the US was truly ready to radically alter our approach to the Middle East and support the idea that the Egyptian people’s future, and the future of all people, should be up to the people themselves.

Perhaps the most conspicuous part of Mrs. Clinton’s speech Sunday was this: “’It’s striking that in Tunisia, Ben Ali, who’d been in power so long, got out of town,’ she said, referring to…the ousted president. ‘He didn’t have the depth of support within the institutions of his government that would have enabled him even to attempt to hang on, so he left.’ Other Arab leaders, she said, believe they can ride out the unrest by taking steps to improve the lives of their people. King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Saleh of Yemen appeared to fit that description. Mrs. Clinton did not say in which category Mr. Mubarak fit.” (Reported by the Washington Post; italics are mine.)

Last week, my reporting was filled with optimism that, not only would Egyptians soon experience democracy, but also that Obama would finally bring the United States onto the right side of history in the Middle East. I received several comments saying that it was naïve thinking since Islamic Fascists would probably hijack the process anyways – which is, admittedly, stupid and devoid of the facts on the ground. But what I realize this week is that I was naïve, but only because I believed the US had the courage to actually live up to the values we profess to uphold. I can now only wait lamely in hope that the US will sincerely press for change, and not just a façade of change.

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