The popular mass uprising that deposed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the dramatic events in Tunisia, Yemen, and elsewhere have made clear inconvenient truths about the U.S. role in the region, showed the fallacy of the so-called “clash of civilizations” theory, and helped deconstruct the ignorance and fear about Islam that has fueled Islamophobia in the U.S.
The U.S. has long publicly extolled the virtues of democracy, self-determination, human rights, and economic opportunity. But for more than three decades, the autocratic, corrupt, and oppressive regime of Mubarak has been a close ally of the U.S., and second only to Israel as a recipient of foreign aid. Strong support for a “useful autocrat” like Mubarak can be linked to the peace treaty with Israel and Egypt’s role in combating international terrorism—but at what price?
The world watched the Mubarak regime employ every tactic in the police-state handbook: arresting and torturing protesters, harassing journalists, and dispatching pro-regime thugs to incite violence. Across the U.S. media spectrum—from Fox News to CNN and MSNBC—reporters acknowledged the political corruption, economic exploitation, and human rights abuses that have been hallmarks of Egypt’s rule.
Now we can see clearly what people in the Middle East have experienced for decades: the sharp disconnect between the high-minded ideals of the U.S. and its actual policies. Now the political expediency that informed U.S. support for the Shah of Iran for three decades and Saddam Hussein in the 1980s appears strikingly similar to patterns in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.