As an Egyptian American, I welcome the Egyptian people’s call for President Mubarak to go. So should all of us, for democracy will be good for Egyptians and Americans both.
For thirty years Mubarak’s authoritarian government has held down the Egyptian people with an iron fist. Under emergency laws imposed in 1981, Egypt’s hated security police routinely violate basic civil liberties guaranteed in our own Bill of Rights. Freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, the right to a speedy and fair trial – none are protected in Egypt. Dissent is rewarded with indefinite detention without charge, beatings, and torture.
For decades Mubarak’s party, the NDP, has rigged elections. In last fall’s elections, the NDP used restrictions on public campaigning, arbitrary arrests, violence, and ballot stuffing to push the opposition out of parliament. The result: The opposition’s share of seats in parliament dropped from 25% to 3%.
Until recently, President Mubarak had planned to hand over the reins of the government to his son Gamal, as if he were the head of a Pharaonic dynasty rather than an elected president.
Under Mubarak, connections and bribery decide who gets jobs, permits, contracts, and favorable treatment by government officials.
From the Cold War through 9/11 and since, the U.S. has supported Mubarak and other authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East in exchange for going along with its agenda on oil, Israel, the war on terror, and market economics. The U.S. sends Egypt $1.5 billion a year, nearly all of it military assistance, making Egypt the second largest recipient of U.S. aid.
This attempt to purchase allies at the expense of human rights and democracy has run its course.
To break the pro-democracy uprising, the regime has had hired thugs arrest and violently attack demonstrators and journalists, stoked fears of foreigners and an Islamist takeover, portrayed itself as the sole protector of the people from chaos, and offered partial concessions.
After initially hesitating to distance his administration from Mubarak, reports indicate that Obama is now negotiating behind the scenes to speed Mubarak’s departure.
In the meantime, Mubarak may have enough time to crush the democratic movement. Much depends on what stance Egypt’s powerful military takes.
It is urgent that the U.S. take stronger steps now to withdraw support for Egypt’s dictatorship. We should utilize our main source of leverage in the situation – the aid we provide Egypt’s military.
Obama should immediately announce plans to suspend all military aid to Egypt until Mubarak leaves, a process for free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections negotiated and established, and the emergency laws lifted.
Were Obama to do so, Egypt’s military would likely conclude that the cost of backing Mubarak’s dictatorship has become too high and that it will benefit more from Mubarak’s quick departure and a transition to democracy.
Some argue that Obama should continue to back the “devil we know” rather than gamble on a more representative government whose direction is unclear. But what do we think will happen if the U.S. continues to back a dictatorship against the will of 80 million Egyptians? Should we not worry that many will blame the U.S. for propping up their oppressor?
Others worry that if democracy comes to Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will establish a theocratic regime similar to Iran’s. The chances of this are slim, however. The youth-led pro-democracy movement is overwhelmingly secular, with the Muslim Brotherhood only one player among many. Were Egyptians to win basic civil liberties and a multi-party democracy, they would have less reason to turn to the mosque as the only safe place to express opposition to Mubarak’s regime.
It’s time to tell Mubarak that his time is up. The people of the U.S. and Egypt both stand to gain from democracy in Egypt. Let’s begin to heal our relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds by suspending military aid to Egypt’s dictatorship and supporting democracy in Egypt.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
Hany Khalil has worked with War Times since its founding. He has organized in the peace, racial justice, and economic justice movements since he was a college student in the 1980s. In the 2000s he worked as Organizing Coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, the largest and broadest national peace coalition working to end the Iraq war and change U.S. foreign policy. He now lives in Houston, TX.
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