Saturday, February 12, 2011

Some Reactions to Egypt

Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, argues in Politico that recent events in Tunisia and Egypt are Osama Bin Laden's worst nightmare. He reasons that Al Qaeda has always called for armed struggle from within to bring down the region's corrupt dictators, whereas the successful Tunisian and Egyptian protests have been largely peaceful. Thus Telhami views the triumph of civil protest as a potential success for the United States because fewer people will turn to Al Qaeda for inspiration. This may be true, however Telhami fails to mention the Bush Doctrine, which also promoted an armed struggle that killed thousands of innocents, only this time the violence came from the outside. The people in this region probably think of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—not to mention Washington’s blind support for Israeli aggression—when they imagine American foreign policy, and not our lofty rhetoric promoting freedom for the masses. Therefore a defeat for Al Qaeda is not necessarily a victory for the United States.

Still, I must admit that the White House's position on Egypt has undoubtedly improved over the past two days. Washington appeared to express dismay over former President Mubarak's patronizing speech on Thursday night and even congratulated the Egyptian people after his resignation yesterday. Indeed, President Obama's remarks were thoughtful and dignified, conveying deep respect for the Egyptian people. Interestingly he compares the Egyptian Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I think a better comparison would be the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Especially the parallels from a Washington perspective. Much like the Shah of Iran, the repressive regime of the pharaoh of Egypt was militarily supported by the United States and thought of as America's most important ally in the region. Furthermore, Washington interpreted events badly back then as they are doing today, with Hillary Clinton's statement that “the Egyptian government is stable” only two weeks ago reminding us of President Carter's observation that the Shah was “an island of stability” in 1977, only months before the start of the Islamic Revolution.

Of course it is quite obvious why Obama dares not make the comparison between 1979 and today. And to our credit, Washington's response yesterday is not what it was to the finale of the Islamic Revolution. But if anything, recent events are a victory for the Tunisian and Egyptian people, as well as marginalized populations worldwide. When Omar Suleiman delivered the news of Mubarak's resignation yesterday, fireworks went off in Beirut. Arab television networks showed nothing but the Egyptian celebrations all night long. Indeed, the people of this region are jubilant and inspired. And yet the above responses still insist on inserting the United States at the center of world history. Fine. But if we do so, then we must do so honestly.

So if we return to Telhami's omission of America and Israel's often violent occupation of Arab lands and peoples, as well Obama's comparison of the Egyptian Revolution with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and look at the situation sincerely, recent events do in fact potentially signal the end of an era. Indeed, the end of an ideology. In other words, the end of American imperialism and global hegemony. And perhaps even the end of Zionist imperialism and regional hegemony. The global balance is certainly shifting. The Tunisian and Egyptian people have taken their lives back from domineering interests. Others may soon follow. People are increasingly making it clear that they no longer want the leadership of Washington which has kept them in chains for decades. They have found their voices and will not likely be silenced again. And it is in the world's best interests if America finally starts to listen to them.

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