Friday, March 23, 2007

Is the US pro-democracy in Egypt, or not?

An interesting (long) article in the Washington Post discusses the Bush administration's love/hate relationship with democracy in Arab countries, notably Egypt. The administration sees democracy only or mainly as holding "elections"--and of course if elections were free and fair in places like Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic extremists would do well. (A more sophisticated understanding of democracy would consist of settling disputes peacefully, and strengthening democratic institutions).

Key, sad paragraphs:

"For 60 years," [Condi Rice said in 2005], "my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." For five paragraphs of her speech, diplomatic niceties made way for a series of declarative "musts" directed at Egypt's government: It must give its citizens the freedom to choose, Egyptian elections must be free, opposition groups must be free to assemble and participate. The Egyptian government, Rice said, "must put its faith in its own people."

The language was black-and-white, but America's relationship with Egypt -- with President Hosni Mubarak and with the reform movement -- never is.

Nearly two years later, the legacy of Rice's words is intimately tied to the fate of Egypt's democracy movement, divided and withering under unrelenting repression by a government that remains one of America's key allies in the region. What began as a test of American mettle ended in failure to bring about far-reaching change in a country that has received more per capita U.S. aid than Europe did under the post-World War II Marshall Plan. In the eyes of activists and, at times, the government itself, that failure stands as a narrative of misperception about the people Americans sought to court, and of naivete about those the Americans wanted to reform.

In the end, they say, pragmatic priorities triumphed over promises.

"The Americans now prefer stability over democracy," said George Ishaq, a demoralized opposition leader. He fell silent, then narrowed his eyes. "I will never trust them again."

Who can blame him? Condi Rice--a Russian specialist who barely speaks Russian--leaves this week again to talk with Arab leaders that we now support, because they're better than the alternative.
The full article is: "DEMOCRACY'S DUSK A Movement Fades
Egypt Shuts Door on Dissent As U.S. Officials Back Away," at:

--Wendy Leibowitz, in Washington, D.C.

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