It’s Time To Get Tough On Egypt

Via Instapundit comes this excellent piece by Max Boot on the situation in Mubarak’s Egypt:

If Bush wants to show that he is still serious about promoting “the expansion of freedom,” he could begin by making an example of Egypt.

Mubarak is reputedly one of Washington’s closest friends in the Arab world, yet he has been among the most brazen in defying Bush’s demands for greater openness while force-feeding his 78 million subjects a steady diet of anti-American and anti-Semitic drivel. His vow to hold multiparty presidential elections produced a suspect ballot last fall in which he secured 88% of a feeble turnout. Afterward, he consigned his chief challenger, Ayman Nour, to five years’ hard labor on trumped-up charges of forging signatures to qualify for the ballot. The subsequent parliamentary election was even more dubious; ruling party goons used violence and fraud to keep the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition group, from winning too many seats. Now Mubarak’s minions are roughing up peaceful demonstrators who support brave judges in their demand for greater independence and less electoral fraud.

Why, oh why, is this repugnant regime still getting $2 billion a year in American subsidies? Take the money away from Mubarak and give it to democracy-promotion programs across the Middle East. That would be a shot heard ’round the world. Failing such a signal, the dictators will become bolder and more brazen in defying what Bush once called “the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity.”

The State Department is worried that if Mubarak’s regime were to fall or be voted out, the Muslim Brotherhood would likely end up in power. The State Department is also right on that account. The Muslim Brotherhood has been systematically suppressed by Egyptian authorities, but remains the only opposition force capable of truly challenging Mubarak. Ayman Nour’s pro-democracy group is simply too weak to provide a real challenge at this point.

However, we have to ask, is Mubarak really all that much better than a government with the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter has thrived because Hosni Mubarak’s reign has destroyed civil society in Egypt. There is almost no real freedom of political expression in Egypt, and the only place in which one can speak freely is in a mosque. This suppression of personal freedom invariably creates a pressure that can either be vented through democratic action or explode into violence. Mubarak’s regime has been trying to tightly control dissent from both pro-democracy groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, and sooner or later that strategy is likely to fail – and it will fail catastrophically.

At some point, we have to understand that our interests are no longer met by having some strong man in charge. Mubarak is a figure that comes from the old days of realpolitik when were concerned with thwarting Soviet ambitions in the Middle East and not the gathering threat of Islamist terrorism. Back then, the threat that such groups posed was largely unknown and ignored.

However, despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has a less-than-savory history, we have to understand that the political oppression of the Middle East is one of the primary causes for the spread of international terrorism. When an Egyptian sees the autocracy, corruption, and tyranny of the Mubarak regime, the Muslim Brotherhood’s motto of “Islam is the solution” sounds all the more prescient. The idea that a dictator like Mubarak is a true countermeasure towards Islamic extremism in Egypt is ultimately flawed – if anything, Mubarak’s regime is feeding Islamic extremism in Egypt.

President Bush should make it clear that further foreign aid distributions to Egypt will be made conditional on Mubarak’s willingness to lay the groundwork for a democratic and free state. That process should begin by a demand for the freedom of the Egyptian bloggers arrested this week during a pro-democracy protest. If Mubarak is unwilling to tolerate free and peaceful dissent among his people, then he is undeserving of the $2 billion per year in US foreign aid he receives. If he wishes to have his son Gemal inherit his presidency rather than laying the groundwork for a truly open and democratic election, then we should not support that choice.

Our national interests are now best met by ending the system of autocracy in the Middle East that fuels resentment and terrorism. President Bush has been right in noting this link time and time again in his speeches. It is time for him to put his money where his mouth is. If we truly believe that the solution to terrorism is the expansion of democracy and human rights, Egypt gives us an opportunity to illustrate our commitment to those values through action. We must put diplomatic pressure on the Mubarak regime until they begin to show a true commitment to civil society and democracy in Egypt.

4 thoughts on “It’s Time To Get Tough On Egypt

  1. Excellent point. One change I would make is: It’s time for him [President Bush] to put OUR money where his mouth is. It offends me to no end how much of our foreign aid is given to extremely wealthy autocrats that serve only to support their corrupt governments and suppress any dissent. For whatever good that policy(“yeah, but he’s OUR sone of a @$#!”)did, it is no longer effective and no longer acceptable. Egypt is a good place to begin.

  2. Other Middle Eastern autocracies are propped up with cheap petro-dollars that allow them the ability to suppress their populations. Egypt does not have that luxury. Fortunately for Mubarak, the U.S. plays the role of money-supplier to the Mubarak regime in exchange for peace with Israel (no Arab coalition will attack Israel without Egyptian forces) and an open Suez canal. But that game is going to eventually backfire because the internal pressures in Egypt are tracking what happened in Iran 30 years ago where the civil society was crushed and only in the Mosques could dissent be manifested, leaving the Islamists as the only viable opposition. If that happens as it did in Iran, it will be a manifestly disastrous outcome for U.S. interests in the region.

  3. Well .. since that article was posted in May 06, 8 months later, the situation in Egypt is any thing but better.
    Here are some highlights:
    – Some bloggers were able to post video clips of torture in Police stations including hanging of a female detainee from her legs in a very awkward position, another one of a male detainee being raped with a wooden shaft (probably a broom stick) up his rectum not to mention a dozen of other clips of detainees being beaten, males and females.
    – In October of every year, the state run universities bars names of all students they suspect of belonging to any Islamic Student Union. Even though, when they run freely, they win a sweep majority since most students know they are the most honest and caring for their issues. This year, when faced with this procedure, the students of Al-Azhar University decided to boycott the university run elections and conduct their own, in the outdoor, in glass boxes while all students are observing. Not-surprisingly, the Islamic Students won most of the seats. They celebrated their victory. Soon after, the Police arrested several members of the new “free” student union. To protest it, students stroke inside the university for several days. On the last days, a Police chief sent a message to the students that if they do not break their strike, mobs belonging to the security forces will get to them and beat them. They broke their strike. However, next day, they conducted what some called a military style parade. In reality, it was a show by students from Physical Education School Students belonging to the Islamic Union, presenting a Martial Art show. They may have intended to show Police mobs that they are ready for them in case they want to fight!
    The reaction of the state was overwhelming though!
    Police raded the student dorm arresting 128 students during the night. Few weeks later, they arrested scores of the most successful businessmen and investors with ties with the Muslim Brotherhood with charges such as money laundering and sponsering terrorism. They froze their assets.
    Within few weeks, the normal court orders them all free and their assets unfrozen for insufficient proofs.
    Police reissue new orders of arrests to keep them under control.
    Mubarak issue a decree to have their case processed by a martial court. The problem is .. martial courts judges are appointed by the President himself, their sentences are twice as harsh, no appeal to the sentences except by the President himself and cases are Express Service Processed with very limited time to the accused to defend himself or to his attorney.
    – Another news clip: Italy orders 26 CIA officers to be tried for charges related to extraditing an Egyptian religious clerk to Egypt where he was tortured through the state standard torture system. No one pays attention to the guy himself what happened to him, they all concentrate on those 26 officers.

    Stopping the 2 or 2.9 billion dollars would be a good thing, but I think the US and the US media ought to do more than just that by exposing the brutal regime of Mubarak. All that fear of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over is non sense, I will not argue by the fact that they have declared over and over their renounce to terrorism and support of minorities in Egypt and lots more, .. but regardless, if this continue like this, the brotherhood will not take over, it will be another underground, Taliban like, Qaeda like or Khomeni like group and when this happens it will be the end, really the end of any hope for any thing good in the middle east. Taliban taking over Afghanistan is one thing, a similar group taking over Egypt is 1000 times worst.

    By the way, have you heard the news a Christian Jordanian being promoted to a Leadership position in the Muslim brotherhood in Jordan? After all, they may not be as bad ad one would think!

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