Let's Be Honest About Egypt

By Jim Wallis 2-01-2011

It's time to be a little more honest about Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak is a dictator, and has run a brutal and corrupt police state for three decades. Why did it take thousands of Egyptians pouring into the street to get the U.S. media to say that? Or to get the U.S. government to admit that there might be a problem there? How many times have there been reports on Egypt's tyrannical government's behavior and systematic violation of human rights over the last 30 years? Why has the U.S government provided more aid to Egypt's repressive regime to any other country except Israel? Why don't many Americans even know that? And why have American presidents and Secretaries of State consistently wrapped their arms around Hosni Mubarak and never bothered to mention his regime's brutal repression? Smiling at joint press events in Cairo and Washington never created any problems -- until now.

In one news report, I saw protesters holding bullet shells and tear gas canisters used against them by Egyptian security forces that were -- yes -- "Made in the U.S.A." Why, in a time of deficit which members of Congress have been eager to point out, have U.S. taxpayers given Mubarak $1.3 billion each year, mostly in military aid? The U.S. government has supplied the dictator's weapons of repression for these many years because he provided "stability" and was always loyal to our "interests." But exactly whose interests? Not the Egyptian people's interests, apparently. Maybe American oil companies and military interests, but we haven't heard much from them since the protests began. Never has the U.S government seemed more interested in Egyptian democracy than in the last five days, expressing the hope for "an orderly transition" -- but to what? Another regime that would be stable for our interests?

Will we ever learn that compromising democracy in other nations for our "interests" doesn't finally work, works against the people of those countries, and ultimately against us? Conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, suggests that Mubarak's brutal repression against Egyptian Islamists might have helped turn some of them into the angry jihadists who drove jets into the Trade Towers on 9/11. And, not surprisingly, many of the other Arab regimes are nervously watching the events in Egypt -- fearing the volatile combination of undemocratic and repressive regimes with popular discontent. The enormously wealthy elites who run those other repressive governments are now hoping that their own people are not watching television reports from Cairo -- but of course they are.

American foreign policy in Egypt and throughout the region is fundamentally shaped by our ongoing oil corruption, the moral contradiction that controls the entire Middle East and our foreign policy in relation to it. Careful White House declarations of our commitment to democracy in Egypt seem weak in the face of a revolution on the streets, and embarrassingly inconsistent in light of our long support of an indefensible dictatorship. Washington knows that such uprisings could occur in virtually every other Middle East regime, and the other regimes know it too. So much for stability. What we need to understand is that this is not just about Egypt; it's also about us.

There are three crucial tests now which will determine what will happen next in Egypt. First, will the protests that were started by a new generation young people who want a better and more democratic way of life remain peaceful? Second, will the military keep its promise made last night not to attack our "great people?" And will the United States be willing to abide by a new democracy in Egypt that doesn't have to always agree with American "interests?"

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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