In the past few weeks, the world has been carefully following of the revolutionary wave that has been sweeping across the Middle East. From the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia to the Egyptian protests, unrest in the Arab world is promising nothing short of drastic changes to come.
What occurred in Tunisia as a result of 23 years of repression under President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s government was caused by the severe struggle of a population battling high unemployment and economic distress, particularly among the poor and the educated youth. Tunisians lived in a society that deprived them from basic human rights — such as being able to express an opinion against their government for fear of being prosecuted, imprisoned or tortured.
The situation definitely reached a point of no return when a young Tunisian produce seller committed suicide by setting himself on fire when faced with his country’s corruption, and instigated a shared feeling of resentment towards the government among the rest of the population, which eventually led to a massive wave of street protests. While the world was watching, the question many asked was how desperate one must be to set himself on fire for a much needed change of circumstances.
The protests resulted in Ben Ali’s forced resignation and expulsion from the country on Jan. 20, despite his attempt to massacre the protestors, ordering the army to shoot at them. Even the army embarked on this revolutionary movement, which inevitably caused the collapse of the Tunisian government.
These events triggered a “domino effect” across the Middle East that inspired Egypt to begin its own pursuit for justice as well. On Jan. 25, thousands of anti-government protesters rallied against President Hosni Mubarak’s ministry, denouncing “Egypt’s grinding poverty, corruption, unemployment and police abuses” that have been plaguing the country for 30 years. On this day, approximately 10,000 people filled the streets of Cairo.
In an attempt to quell the protests Mubarak shutdown the country’s Internet and mobile networks that served as organizing tools for the demonstrators. The clash between the police officers and the anti-government protestors has led to enormous violence, leading to the possible death of hundreds of people, according to the United Nations’ human rights chief.
Throughout these events, what has been particularly infuriating and making this historical situation an increasingly impactful one worldwide is the neutral role that the United States has been fulfilling. While protestors have called for the immediate resignation of Mubarak, the U.S. has been taking quite an indecisive stand on the issue.
In fact, Obama’s immunity to the events goes hand-in-hand with the strong ties his nation has with Egypt. Until now, no significant effort has been made by the U.S. administration to push for democracy in Egypt. Yes, the administration has voiced its desires and concerns in regards to the violence that is occurring in the region at the moment and the nature of Mubarak’s government, but nothing was transferred into action.
Instead, Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, has been quoted saying such mild-toned statements as: “[The U.S. officials] obviously want to see people who are truly committed to democracy, not to imposing any ideology on Egyptians.”
According to the U.S. State Department, “An important pillar of the bilateral relationship remains U.S. security and economic assistance to Egypt, which expanded significantly in the wake of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979. U.S. military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually.”
This could give one an idea of why the U.S., who have been nothing but self-proclaimed advocates of democracy around the world, stood back during the Egyptian protests and failed to strongly stand against Mubarak’s regime — a clearly undemocratic one.
What the U.S. fears the most are the consequences that would result from losing an important ally in the Arab world. As a British online newspaper reported: “U.S. politicians speculate openly that the president’s replacement by a democratically elected head of state would mean a less pliable government that would be unlikely to collaborate with Israel’s blockade of Gaza.” As Egypt has been most faithful to the Middle Eastern “peace process” — which is really a way to “provide window dressing behind which Israel continues to extend its colonization of Palestinian land” — the U.S. cannot afford to have a replacement of Mubarak’s regime that would be unwilling to play by the same rules.
The U.S.’ obvious intentions portray a serious neglect of the interests of the Egyptian people, in order to fulfill its own political goals in the Middle East. These intentions are most striking when analyzing the Obama’s administration’s failure to denounce the violence used by Mubarak to end the protests.
Sarah Khalil is the former International Comment Coordinator for the Manitoban and a third-year political studies student at the University of Manitoba.