HereÂs New York Times reporter Mark Landler on WashingtonÂs reaction to the popular uprising in Egypt against the anti-liberal democratic, human rights-abusing Hosni Mubarak, a Âstaunch ally.Â
Washington is Âproceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests.Â
In other words, democracy and human rights are fine, but not when strategic and commercial interests are at stake.
Landler goes on to say that WashingtonÂs cold-eyed commitment to realpolitik and profits Âsometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments Â which has turned many of those young people against the United States.Â
Well, thereÂs nothing amiss in LandlerÂs observation except his downplaying of the frequency with which Washington supports autocratic and unpopular governments Â often rather than sometimes.
In LandlerÂs account of strategic thinking in Washington, itÂs all right to support an Âupheaval in Tunisia, a peripheral player in the region,Â but a Âwave of upheaval could uproot valuable allies.Â And profits and strategic position demand the possibility be blocked.
After all, the ÂEgyptian government is a crucial ally to Washington.Â And so arrests without charge, including of nearly 500 bloggers, will continue, with Washington maintaining a principled non-interference in Egyptian affairs.
Washington will also continue to tolerate the repressive national emergency law, as it has done since 1981. The law provides the legal cover WashingtonÂs Âstaunch allyÂ needs to Âarrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court.Â Because this is done in the service of safeguarding US strategic and commercial interests, Mubarak gets US military aid, diplomatic support, and an easy ride in the US media.
Compare that to US treatment of ZimbabweÂs president Robert Mugabe. Even if all the allegations against him were true Â and theyÂre not Â the government in Harare wouldnÂt come close to matching MubarakÂs disdain for the democratic and human rights values Washington claims to hold dear.
And yet Zimbabwe is deemed by the US president to be a grave threat to US foreign policy, its president denounced as a strongman and dictator, and its people subjected to economic warfare in the form of financial sanctions, while Mubarak is hailed as a staunch ally who must be supported against the democratic aspirations of the Arab street.
The key to this duplicity is that Mubarak has sold out Egypt to US profit and strategic interests, while Mugabe has sought to rectify the historical iniquities of colonialism. Clearly, from WashingtonÂs perspective, Mugabe is serving the wrong interests. Indigenous farmers donÂt count. Western investors do.
One wonders where overthrow specialist Peter Ackerman and his stable of nonviolent warrior academic advisors come down on this Â on the side of the democratic aspirations of young Arabs or reconciled to the cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests of US corporations and wealthy individuals?
The question, however, may be beside the point. What matters is not whether AckermanÂs janissary Lester Kurtz wants to spout Gandhian bromides to angry Egyptian youths, but whether thereÂs money to organize and boost the revolutionary energy of the street and how much is being poured into a repressive apparatus to shut it down.
Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney (DonÂt give up on Egypt,Â Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009) have the answer.
The Obama administration has drastically scaled back its financial support for Egyptian activists fighting for political reform. US democracy and governance funding was slashed by 60 percent. From 2004 to 2009, the US spent less than $250M on democracy programs, but $7.8 billion on aid to the Egyptian military.
But even this imbalance overstates the meager support Washington has offered pro-democracy forces. Given MubarakÂs status as a paladin of US commercial and strategic interests, much of WashingtonÂs democracy program spending has probably been allocated to programs that act as a safety valve to divert anger and frustration into safe, non-threatening avenues. Money available to facilitate a real challenge to Mubarak is likely either meager or nonexistent.
With the US establishment vexed by cold-eyed concerns about the need to safeguard imperialist interests against pro-democratic uprisings, champion of nonviolent democracy activism Stephen Zunes can give up whatever dreams he may have had about helping to organize an Egyptian color revolution.
When it comes to real democracy, and freedom that counts, the funding cupboard is bare. Color revolutions are for cold-eyed promoters of US strategic and commercial interests, not upheavals against US-backed compradors.
January 26, 2011