Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mubarak's Exit and Foreign Intervention

Mubarak finally is history, and the Egyptian people have overcome fear and lies to remove him. They overcame the fear of State Security, who were omnipresent and repressive. They overcame the fear of the National Democratic Party-hired thugs, petty criminals and gang members who beat up political opponents. They overcame the fear of supporting alternatives to Mubarak and the NDP, such as opposition political parties or the Muslim Brotherhood.  Finally, they overcame the fear of a future without Mubarak.

The big lie was that a repressive state apparatus under Mubarak was the only choice for the Egyptian people. Another lie was that a constant state of emergency was required to deal with the threat of terrorism. Egyptians also overcame Mubarak's lie that they were not ready or capable of participating in free and fair elections.

One lie the people have had difficulty counteracting is the Government's condemnation of support by foreign groups or countries for democracy initiatives in Egypt. This lie has been used frequently by Mubarak to repress activists and civil society groups working for political reform. He even used this canard in his last speech on February 10, in which he refused to resign. This time, no one listened, because Egyptians knew in their hearts that they were taking full responsibility for bringing Mubarak down.

Fear of foreign intervention is in fact justified, since the country was under foreign control for two millennia. Egyptians took their fate in their hands in the 1920's, with the creation of the Wafd Party and Muslim Brotherhood, both focused on purging the country of foreign influences and British control. Following the military revolt against the monarchy in 1952, President Gamal Abdel Nasser made many Egyptians proud of his anti-imperialist policies, nationalist views, 1956 seizure of the Suez Canal and 1967 attack on Israel.  Although Nasser lost the Sinai to Israel, he is still viewed as a great leader because of his efforts to build Egypt's strength and leadership of the Arab world. One of the major opposition parties today follows Nasserism.

The Soviet Union strongly supported Nasser and bankrolled the Aswan High Dam. Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, expelled Soviet military advisers, led Egypt to fight the 1973 war with Israel and allied with the US to sign the Camp David Accords with Israel.  Many Egyptians believed that the peace treaty was a betrayal of Nasser's nationalist and pan-Arab ideals. Even though Egypt received about 70 billion dollars in military and economic assistance from the US in support of the Accords, its leaders frequently accused America of intervening in its internal affairs. Egyptian Government officials accused American technicians of imposing themselves and their programs on their Egyptian colleagues.

Mubarak tried to find a balance between accepting US assistance for Egypt's support of the Camp David Accords and exercising complete control of Egypt's political life.  Through his officials and government-controlled media, he frequently criticized the Bush Administration's calls for political reform and support for democracy and civil society. The government put strict controls on foreign funding of civil society organizations.

The Mubarak regime was successful in making criticism of foreign intervention politically correct.  Even some political reform activists whose organizations received USAID and State Department support felt it necessary to make public statements against US democracy programs.  Some newspapers, including those supported by the Government and those in opposition, ran long-term campaigns against democracy assistance, publishing frequent commentary condemning such assistance.

In the post-Mubarak period, with many of the fears overcome and lies dispelled, the Egyptian people need to analyze the new opportunities and constraints of their political environment.  They need to define their long-term interests and identify their capacity for putting in place the legal framework and democratic institutions they need, as well as the areas where support from international donors will be necessary. Egyptians and the international community must work together to build partnerships that strengthen the democratic system and respect the interests of the Egyptian people.

Rick Gold


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