FAIR: The Delicate Tightrope of Supporting a Dictator
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By Fidel Castro
February 1, 2011 -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s fate is sealed, not even the support of the United States will be able to save his government.
The people of Egypt are an intelligent people with a glorious history who left their mark on civilisation. “From the top of these pyramids, 40 centuries of history are looking down upon us”, Napoleon Bonaparte once said in a moment of exaltation when the revolution brought him to this extraordinary crossroads of civilisations.
After World War II, Egypt was under the brilliant governance of Abdel Nasser, who together with Jawaharlal Nehru, heir of Mahatma Gandhi; Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah; and Guniea's Ahmed Sekou Toure — African leaders who together with Sukarno, then president of the recently liberated Indonesia — created the Non-Aligned Movement of Countries and advanced the struggle for independence in the former colonies.
At the time, the peoples of South-East Asia, the Middle East and Africa, such as Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Western Sahara, the Congo, Angola, Mozambique and other countries immersed in the struggle against French, English, Belgian and Portuguese colonialism backed by the United States were fighting for independence with the support of the USSR and China.
After the triumph of our revolution, Cuba joined this movement in motion.
In 1956, Britain, France and Israel launched a surprise attack against Egypt, which had nationalised the Suez Canal. The brave and supportive action by the USSR, which included a threat to use its strategic missiles, stopped the aggressors dead in their tracks.
The death of Abdel Nasser on September 28, 1970 was an irreversible setback for Egypt.
The United States has never stopped conspiring against the Arab world, which holds the largest oil reserves on the planet. There is no need to profoundly debate this matter; it is enough to read recent news dispatches on what inevitably is transpiring.
Let’s take a look at the news:
(DPA) More than 100,000 Egyptians took to the streets today to protest against the government of President Hosni Mubarak, despite a prohibition of demonstrations issued by authorities…
Demonstrators set fire to the offices of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) and police surveillance points, while in downtown Cairo they threw rocks at police who tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets.
US President Barack Obama met today with a group of experts to become better informed on the situation. Meanwhile, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the United States would reassess the multimillion dollar aid it provides to Egypt as events transpire.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also sent a strong message from Davos.
(Reuters) President Mubarak ordered a curfew in Egypt and the deployment of army troops backed by armoured vehicles in Cairo and other cities. Violent clashes between demonstrators and the police have been reported.
Egyptian forces, supported by armoured vehicles, deployed throughout Cairo and other major Egyptian cities on Friday to put an end to large-scale protests demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
Medical sources reported that so far 410 people have been injured in the protests, while state television announced a curfew for all cities.
The situation represents a dilemma for the United States, which has expressed its desire for democracy to spread throughout the region. Mubarak, however, has been a close ally of Washington for several years and the beneficiary of extensive military aid.
(DPA) Thousands of Jordanians protested today across the country after Friday prayers, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, and political and economic reforms.
In the midst of the political disaster assailing the Arab world, leaders, who were gathered in Switzerland, discussed the cause of the phenomenon which they described as global suicide.
(EFE) Several political leaders at the Davos World Economic Forum called for a change of the growth model.
The current model of economic growth, based on consumerism and a disregard of environmental consequences, can no longer be sustained because the planet’s survival is at risk, several political leaders warned today in Davos.
“The current model is global suicide. We need a revolution. Revolutionary thinking. Revolutionary action", warned Ban Ki-moon. "Natural resources are becoming more and more scarce”, he added, during a debate on how to redefine sustainable growth at the World Economic Forum.
“Climate change is also showing us that the old model is more than obsolete", said the head of the UN.
The UN secretary general added that in addition to basic survival resources such as food and water, "one resource is the scarcest of all: Time, We are running out of time. Time to tackle climate change”.
(AP): Washington -- President Barack Obama tried the impossible: winning the hearts and minds of Egyptians furious with their autocratic ruler while assuring a vital ally that the United States has his back.
The four-minute speech Friday evening represented a careful balancing act for Obama. He had a lot to lose by choosing between protesters demanding that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down from a government violently clinging to its three-decade grip on the country.
Obama ... didn't endorse regime change. Nor did he say that Mubarak's announcement was insufficient.
Obama’s address was the most forceful of the day, but it stuck largely to the script already set by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
(NTX) The Washington Post called on the Obama administration to use its political and economic influence to convince President Mubarak to step down in Egypt.
“The United States should use all its influence, including the more than 1 billion dollars in aid it provides each year to the Egyptian army to assure its ultimate outcome (the surrender of power by Mubarak)," the paper states in its editorial.
… in his message delivered on Friday night Obama said that he would continue working with President Mubarak and regretted that he had not mentioned eventual elections.
The newspaper described Obama’s position as "unrealistic" along with that of Vice President Joe Biden, who told a radio station that he would not call the Egyptian president a dictator, and that he did not think that he should resign.
(AFP) US-Arab organizations demanded that the government of President Barack Obama stop supporting the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt.
(ANSA) The United States once again expressed its "concern" over violence in Egypt and warned the government of Mubarak that it could not act as if nothing had happened.
Fox News reported that Obama only had two poor options with respect to Egypt.
…warned the Cairo government that it could not "reshuffle the deck" and act as if nothing had happened in the country.
The White House and the State Department are closely following the situation in Egypt, one of Washington’s main allies in the world, and the recipient of some 1.5 billion dollars annually in civilian and military aid.
United States news agencies are giving extensive coverage to the disturbances in Egypt and have been indicating that the situation, no mater how it is resolved, could result in a headache for Washington.
If Mubarak falls, reports Fox, the United States and its other principal ally in the Middle East, Israel, could have to face a government of the Muslim Brothers in Cairo, and a turn towards anti-western sentiment in the North African country.
“We were betting on the wrong horse for 50 years", former CIA agent Michael Scheuer told Fox. "To think that the Egyptian people are going to forget that for half a century we supported dictators is a dream", he concluded.
(AFP) The international community increased its pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to implement political reforms and to stop the repression of demonstrators who that have been carrying out protests against his government over the last five days.
Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and David Cameron asked the president "to initiate a process of change" in response to the "legitimate demands" of his people and "to avoid, at all costs, the use of violence against civilians", in a joint declaration published on Saturday.
Iran also called on Egyptian authorities to heed the demands being made on the streets.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia said that the protests represent "an attack against the security and stability" of Egypt and were being carried out by "infiltrators" in the name of "freedom of speech".
The king called Mubarak by telephone to express his solidarity, reported the official Saudi press agency SPA.
(EFE) Netanyahu fears that the chaos in Egypt could favor Islam’s access to power.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that he fears that the situation in Egypt could favor Islam’s access to power, a concern he said he shares with leaders who have spoken to him over the past few days.
…the prime minister refused to discuss news reports by local media outlets that state that Israel has authorized Egypt to deploy troops in the Sinai Peninsula for the first time in three decades, considered a violation of the 1979 peace treaty between the two nations.
In response to criticism against Western powers such as the United States and Germany that have maintained close ties with totalitarian Arab regimes, the German Foreign minister said, "We have not abandoned Egypt”.
The peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has been at a standstill since last September, mainly because of Israel’s refusal to stop building Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
(EFE) Jerusalem -- Israel favors the continuation in power of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Israeli head of State, Simon Peres, supported Mubarak today by stating that "a fanatic religious oligarchy is not better than a lack of democracy".
The declarations made by the head of State are consistent with reports by local media outlets that state that Israel is pressuring its Western partners to tone down their criticisms of Mubarak’s regime, which the Egyptian people and the opposition are trying to overthrow.
Anonymous official sources quoted by the Haaretz newspaper said that on Saturday the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent a communiqué to its embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries to request that ambassadors emphasize to local authorities the importance of stability in Egypt for Israel.
Israeli analysts said that the fall of Mubarak could endanger the Camp David Agreements that Egypt signed with Israel in 1978 and the subsequent signing of the 1979 bilateral peace treaty, especially if it brings about the ascent to power of the Islamic Muslim Brothers, which have widespread popular support.
Israel views Mubarak as a guarantor of peace along its southern border, as well as a key supporter in maintaining the blockade against the Gaza Strip and isolating the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.
One of Israel’s greatest fears is that the Egyptian riots, which follow in the wake of uprisings in Tunisia, will also reach Jordan, weakening the regime of King Abdullah II, whose country along with Egypt is the only Arab country that acknowledges Israel.
The recent appointment of General Omar Suleiman as Egypt’s vice president and, therefore, possible presidential successor, has been welcomed in Israel, which has closely cooperated in Defense matters with the general.
However, the Egyptian protests show that the continuity of the regime is not necessarily guaranteed nor that Israel will continue to have Cairo as its main ally in the region.
As you can see, for the first time the world is simultaneously facing three problems: Climate crises, food crises and political crises.
And we can add other serious dangers to them. The risk of increasingly destructive war is very real.
Will the political leaders have sufficient serenity and equanimity to successfully face them?
Our species’ fate depends on it.
[Fidel Castro is the former president of Cuba.]
U.S. media gloss over Washington's role in Egyptian repression
The political context of the current Egyptian uprising is clear: The United States has steadfastly supported dictator Hosni Mubarak, whose rule has been marked by sham elections and the jailing and torture of dissidents, propping up his regime since 1981 with some $60 billion in aid, most of it military.
But since U.S. corporate media are accustomed to viewing international affairs through the lens of U.S. elite interests, much of the current coverage elides Washington's role, or presents it as a "tightrope" balancing act for the Obama administration.
As one New York Times story (1/26/11) put it, "The administration has tried to balance its ties to Mr. Mubarak with expressions of concern about rigged elections and jailed dissidents in his country." USA Today (2/1/11) announced: "The upheaval in Egypt has put the United States in a delicate diplomatic situation: pressing for a more democratic Egypt, but wary that too much change could threaten the stability that Egypt helps bring to the Middle East."
On the PBS NewsHour, Margaret Warner (1/31/11) said, "The chaos in Egypt posed a delicate diplomatic challenge for the United States: appealing for democracy without alienating an ally." Or as NBC Nightly News anchor Kate Snow (1/29/11) asked: "Is it a bit of a tightrope that the U.S. has to walk here, though, in terms of wanting to promote democracy on the one hand, but being a longtime ally of the Mubarak administration?"
An L.A. Times editorial (1/28/11) implausibly argued that the U.S. record of support for Mubarak would assist efforts to promote democracy: "As an ally and benefactor, the United States has helped prop up the 82-year-old strongman since he took power 30 years ago, and today it is in a unique position to impress upon him the importance of democracy."
Some of the recently released WikiLeaks cables on Egypt provided another window into media thinking on the issue. The January 28 New York Times story was headlined, "Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt's Leaders." The same day, the London Guardian had a very different headline: "WikiLeaks Cables Show Close U.S. Relationship With Egyptian President." The Times account buried some of the more damning details, which make clear that U.S. officials are keenly aware of the prevalence of torture and brutality under Mubarak (FAIR Blog, 1/28/11).
ABC's Christiane Amanpour offered what amounted to a rationalization of U.S. support for Egypt, explaining (1/26/11) that
implications are really big because this is very fundamental. Egypt
receives the most American aid, more than $1 billion a year. It has the
same goals as the United States against radicalization and terrorism,
pro the Israeli peace process. But the United States, many people are
saying, needs to get ahead of the curve, because otherwise it might be
left behind as the people demonstrate their will.
Some outlets saw a distinct shift in the Obama administration's position--well ahead of any evidence to that effect. The Washington Post published a January 27 piece headlined "As Arabs Protest, U.S. Speaks Up," which declared that the White House was "openly supporting the anti-government demonstrations shaking the Arab Middle East," adding that the administration had "thrown U.S. support clearly behind the protesters, speaking daily in favor of free speech and assembly even when the protests target longtime U.S. allies such as Egypt."
The Post's evidence, however, was thin: a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating that the Mubarak government should "respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people." The strongest support for the notion that the U.S. was backing the street protests came from an anonymous administration official--hardly an indication of "speak[ing] up" in "open support."
Another Post article tried to make the case again on January 31:
Several paragraphs later, though, the Post added that the "shift in message had no visible effect in Cairo and other Egyptian cities," and reported that prominent activist Mohamed ElBaradei's assessment was that the rhetoric "had landed 'like lead" in the Egyptian capital."
It would seem that Egyptians have a clearer view of U.S. policy than many pundits and mainstream journalists. That point was driven home when NBC reporter Richard Engel, to his credit, brandished a tear gas canister that had been fired at protesters (1/28/11):
But then, as if this straightforward illustration of the U.S. role in Egyptian repression was too revealing, Engel qualified his observation: "And from an Egyptian perspective, it does seem like Mubarak and the United States are working together. So the U.S. is walking a fine line here."
It does not, in fact, take an "Egyptian perspective" to appreciate how crucial U.S. support has been to the Mubarak dictatorship. One only needs to look at the history of the past three decades--a history U.S. media would prefer that we overlook, or treat as part of a delicate "balancing act."