Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Egypt’s Many Problems

Posted in Middle East and North Africa, Uncategorized by Dan on May 3, 2010

Shadi Hamid has an eye-opener over at democracyarsenal.org, which by the way, is actually an official blog of the National Security Network (I had no idea).

I highly recommend that you take a full look at his post, because the topic he discusses- U.S. democracy assistance in the Middle East- is more than a bit relevant.  But just in case you didn’t want to scroll through the whole thing, Hamid raises a few key points about how contradictory and inadequate American democracy promotion is in the Middle East.

Here’s a quote that really jumped out to me:  “The whole idea of “democracy assistance” is a bit odd and more than a bit hypocritical. We fund autocracies with billions of dollars of aid, then we fund some small NGOs so that they can oppose autocracy.”

This, I fear, is something that the average Middle East watcher here in the United States neglects to pay attention too.  For all of its love and dedication towards democratic values and human rights, Washington is still pouring billions upon billions of dollars into regimes that are nowhere near…well…”semi-free.”  Saudi Arabia and Jordan are major players in this respect, both of whom continue to reign repressively at home while reaping the rewards of American taxpayer dollars.  Don’t even get me started on Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, or Uzbekistan.

I understand why the United States is doing this.  There is, after all, an overarching strategic value of pumping money into these regimes.  The general equation is quite obvious; the more money the U.S. sends to places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, the more likely these countries will ally with us on issues of primary importance.  And for the most part, money does buy allies.  Cairo, Riyadh, and Amman are all supportive of a comprehensive and nonviolent path to Palestinian statehood; all three want to scale back Iran’s nuclear program; and two out of the three hold peace agreements with the Israelis.

I’m just wondering what President Barack Obama (and President Bush, President Clinton, President Bush Sr., President Reagan, President Carter, blah blah blah) is sacrificing in order to gain leverage over these regimes.  And unfortunately, you don’t’ have to look hard to see what we are sacrificing; American values, transparent government and the most basic civil liberties.

I do disagree with Hamid on one point he makes in his post.  He seems to imply that Egypt is not yet at the point of full authoritarianism.  To his credit, he does recognize that Egypt is descending further “into full-blown autocracy.”  But facts on the ground seem to indicate that the Egyptian Government is already there.

Hosni Mubarak has ruled by executive decree for the past thirty years, crushing any and all opposition to his administration. His political survival is essentially dependent on the martial law order that was originally created in 1981 after Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists. Yet decades after the assassination, Mubarak continues to extend the law to serve political purposes, like destroying any opposition movement that surfaces as an alternative to his administration.

The Egyptian Government has to sign-off if you want to start an NGO for the population or if you want to participate in politics as a member of the opposition. Otherwise, you can forget about campaigning (as if that will do much good anyway).

This doesn’t even mention the Egyptian Regime’s grotesque human rights record, or the fact that an inexperienced son is ready to take the post after his father leaves.

The one shining light in Egyptian politics today is the emergence of Dr. El’Baradei as a possible contender for the 2011 presidential election. But even that isn’t set in stone.

So I say again, how is Egypt not an autocratic country today? It’s one of most autocratic in the broader Middle East. Even Iran- the quote on quote most repressive country in the region- has replaced their president at least four times in the past two decades.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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