Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
US Politics and Nonsense on Egypt
By James Zogby
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 8, 2011
When U.S. politicians are forced to discuss critical Middle East
matters, more often than not, their remarks either display an ignorance of
facts, are shaped more by political needs than reality, or are just plain
dumb. Commentary about the popular revolt in Egypt provides a case in point.
There was no doubt that the events in Cairo were momentous and,
therefore, deserving of response. In the case of most U.S. political
leaders, however, struggling to come up with the right TV sound bite didn't
require actually knowing anything about Egypt. All that was needed was to
frame the issue through either the prism of partisanship or that of
unbending loyalty to Israel. The result was a string of comments, some
bizarre, others dangerous.
Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, for example, cornered the market on incoherence and
contradiction when she observed that "Mr. Mubarak should...immediately
schedule legitimate, democratic, internationally recognized elections",
adding however that "the U.S. should learn from past mistakes and support a
process which includes candidates who meet basic standards for leaders of
responsible nations - candidates who have publically renounced terrorism,
uphold the rule of law, [and] recognize Egypt's...peace agreement with the
Jewish state of Israel".
In other words, Ros-Lehtinen supports a
democracy where we (not they) set up the criteria. Not quite "respect for
the will of the people", but still better than former Republican Speaker of
the House Newt Gingrich's partisan tirade.
Gingrich who is reported
to be considering a Presidential run is shallow and remarkably uninformed
about most Middle East issues. He gets by largely because he sounds so
authoritative and always has a clever quip or two. In Gingrich's assessment
of the current situation "there's a real possibility in a few weeks...that
Egypt will join Iran, and join Lebanon, and join Gaza, and join the things
that are happening that are extraordinarily dangerous to us". Having thus
displayed almost no understanding of the Middle East, Gingrich goes on to
ridicule President Obama's "naiveté" charging that Obama "went to Cairo and
gave his famous speech in which he explained that we should all be friends
together because we're all the same...and there are no differences between
us. Well I think there are a lot of differences between the Muslim
Brotherhood and the rest of us."
Gingrich's parting shot was to
state that the Administration "doesn't have a clue". Then in order to
demonstrate that he does, Gingrich offers this "advice" to Obama: "study
Reagan and Carter and do what Reagan did and avoid what Carter did".
If the need to take a partisan shot is central to some, more important
for others, both Democrats and Republicans, is the need to make this all
about Israel. Presidential aspirant and former Governor Mike Huckabee, for
example, used the occasion of the uprising to make his 15th trip to Israel
where he lamented that "the Israelis feel alone...and they cannot depend
upon the United States, because they just don't have a confidence that the
U.S. will stand with them".
Representatives Shelley Berkley and
Anthony Weiner, both Democrats, worried about "Arab democracies". Weiner
observed that "Israel has been seered by the experience recently of seeing
democracy elect their enemies", while Berkeley shockingly added "the reality
is this: Democracy as we think of it and democracy as it is often played out
in the Middle East are two different things".
Trying to sound smart
and concerned with defense matters, and failing miserably, was Congressman
Jesse Jackson, Jr. Said Jackson, "U.S. military technology can't fall into
the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood or...Iran's allies in Egypt. Our
partnership with Egypt has provided [them] with a technological military
advantage...it must be secured and not allowed to fall into the hands of
enemies". A number of other Members of Congress focused on the threat
they believe this uprising poses to the Suez Canal and therefore to the
price of oil. They, therefore, are pressing the White House to use this
crisis to focus on renewing efforts to pass an energy bill in Congress.
What has been so disturbing about all this is that there have been
plenty of instances during the past few decades where American political
leaders had not only the opportunity, but were challenged with the
imperative, to learn more about the Arab World. Despite this, they failed.
As a result, they continue to frame critical issues as mere political
issues. A transformative uprising in Egypt or Tunisia comes to be seen as
being about Israel or as a club to use against one's opponent.
reality, of course, is that Egypt is about Egypt. No one in Tahrir Square is
waiting for Newt Gingrich's, or even Barack Obama’s blessing. And the silly
U.S. TV anchor, who tonight tried to get the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman to
say that he would recognize Israel as a Jewish State, was just that - silly.
And just as silly was Eliot Abrams, one of the neo-conservative
ideologues-in-residence in the Bush White House who wrote an article last
Sunday attempting to give Bush credit for the uprising in Egypt, since Bush
advocated for democracy while Obama has not. The reality is more complex.
Bush did speak about democracy, but then went on to pursue regional policies
that were so wildly unpopular with the Arab public that governments friendly
with us felt compelled to subdue their own public's outcry in order to
maintain their friendship and support for the U.S. Arab leaders found that
their embrace of and cooperation with the U.S. could be politically costly.
Demands on their friendship only served to delegitimize their rule at home.
When the U.S.'s favorable rating is 12% in Egypt (and lower still in
Jordan), cozying up to America can be quite costly.
may need to hear themselves talk, but they need to realize that, in fact,
until they have at least a basic knowledge of the Arab World and work to
change America’s policies across the region, they will have no constructive
role to play. They can threaten to withhold aid and make more demands, but
the wiser course might be to simply assert our principles, take a more
humble back seat role and let this situation play out. The Egyptians in
Tahrir Square may cheer our pulling the plug on their President, but they
won't be cheering for us. When the dust settles, our regional policies will
still be the same and Arab anger at those policies, and us, will not have