It is not clear yet how big, or how powerful, this wave of protest against undemocratic regimes will be. Waves are unpredictable. Sometimes waves that look enormous peter out, and waves also can be indiscriminate in their destructive force. In a year, we could see a Middle East that looks pretty much the same as it does right now, or we could see an area filled with many new governments. And if that is the result, who knows whether the governments will support peace with Israel and be favorably inclined to America, or whether we will see more governments predicated on intolerant religious fundamentalism, or whether we will see something else entirely? In America, and in Israel, we watch with anticipation and dread as the wave rolls on.
In the United States, the decision of Hosni Mubarak to yield power to a supreme military tribunal should be a cause for circumspection, not celebration.
Much as we understand and appreciate the desire of the Egyptian people to throw off the reins of an authoritarian regime, there is no assurance at present that whatever government will eventually follow Mubarak will be a real improvement in terms of permitting democracy and recognizing human rights. From this point forward, prudence would seem to suggest that the United States should refrain from public statements about developments in Egypt in favor of careful diplomacy that works behind the scenes to ensure an inclusive, democratic Egyptian government that respects and honors Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
We also should recognize that the fall of Mubarak no doubt will leave every government in the Middle East — from Israel, to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia — feeling a bit shaken and concerned about the possibility of additional popular uprisings. Sweeping pronouncements from the United States about what should be done may not be welcome. We should hold our breath, keep our own counsel, and see what happens next.
A dictatorial government has been overthrown in Tunisia. Protests continue to rage in Egypt, causing long-time leader Hosni Mubarak to reshape his government and to declare that he will not seek “re-election.” Whether he can remain in power until September, as he plans, is anyone’s guess. Significant protests also have occurred in Jordan and Yemen.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in remarks reported by the BBC, has said that the entire Mideast region is in the grip of powerful forces and that the status quo is not sustainable. The inevitable question is whether other countries in the region — such as Lebanon, Syria, Libya, and even Saudi Arabia — also will be the site of mass protests and regime change.
Revolutions — even revolutions that, like the protests in Egypt, seem to be motivated by desire for freedom and democracy — can be unpredictable in their results. Were the bloody Jacobin governments and eventually the reign of Napoleon really preferable to the corrupt French monarchy? History teaches that there can be no assurance that, long-term, the governments that may replace the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes will be preferable to those that went before.
These circumstances present foreign policy challenges that are far more difficult than any yet confronted by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. They will be asked to make quick decisions in the face of fast-moving events, decisions that may have profound consequences. All Americans, whether Republican, Democrat, or independent, should hope that their decisions help to produce a Middle East that is more stable and more democratic, rather than the opposite — because the opposite could be catastrophic.
The price increases are largely supply-driven and are expected to be long-lasting, according to the experts. Weather conditions, such as droughts, floods, and cyclones, have interfered with normally farming and harvest patterns and have kept food from the marketplace. Other factors affecting supply include the increasing efforts to use food as fuel — the heavily subsidized corn ethanol industry in the United States is a good example — and the spread of cities into areas that used to be agricultural producers. And as we all know from the law of supply and demand, when available supply does not meet demand, prices will increase. That is precisely what has happened.
If history teaches us anything, it is that food and famine often effect revolutionary change. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and countless other incidents of regime overthrow have been motivated by the actions of hungry, desperate people. The recent unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East also is being attributed, at least in part, to food prices and hunger. Leaders of regimes in those volatile, hungry parts of the world must be wondering whether they soon will be going the way of Nicholas and Alexandra and Marie Antoinette.
Seeing what’s happening throughout the Muslim world recently and currently in Egypt I am reminded of the words by Imam Rauf (the man behind the community center near ground zero) in his book, What’s Right with America, What’s Right with Islam that I read earlier this year.
Imam Rauf pointed to key historical events that have caused the rise of Islamic Religious Fundamentalism, one of which was the fact that Muslims have a widely held perception that the United States has more often then not has supported undemocratic regimes in Muslim countries.
This I suspect is another one of those key historical events and we need to get it right this time. As Bob said in his blog “Find the Cost of (Egyptian) Freedom” the President is walking a fine line and you can listen to the president’s comments below.
The President numerous times spoke about the Egyptian people, their rights and the need for reforms both in the government and economically. Even Charles Krauthammer from Fox News an avid critic of the president said his comments were “perfectly fine”. I think we are doing the right thing as opposed to wholeheartedly supporting current President Mubarak as we have done in the past.
This protest is basically driven my young Arabians so let’s hope that this is in fact a moment of promise as the president said and that Egyptian people will in fact realize their dreams for a better life.
Egypt’s economy is mired in high unemployment with low wages, and the masses have followed the lead of Tunisia and taken to the streets against an unpopular leader. Mubarak, who has been President for 30 years and apparently has become increasingly tyrannical over that period, is trying to avoid being deposed. In these all-too-familiar scenarios, the crucial issue for the regime usually is whether the army can beat back the masses so that calm can be restored, or whether the army decides to side with the public, leaving the strongman President For Life unprotected, unsupported, and faced with a choice between arrest and trial or fleeing into exile. That decision point seems to be drawing near in Egypt.
I am sure that the realpolitick types in American government would prefer Mubarak to the unknown that might occur if he were deposed. It is possible, of course, that elections could produce a fundamentalist Islamic regime that is hostile to Israel and the Mideast peace process. Yet too much American support for Mubarak could quash American influence with a successor government if he ultimately is deposed. Iran may be a model here. America’s steadfast support for the Shah of Iran until the bitter end left America with no real influence when the Ayatollah Khomeini took over, and American and Iran have been estranged ever since — to the detriment of geopolitics in the Middle East.
Of course, geopolitical considerations and American foreign policy considerations don’t mean much to those Egyptians who are in the streets, protesting in hopes of achieving democratic changes and a better life. Why shouldn’t they have a real say in how they are governed?