Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Egypt's Mubarak Clinging to Power ... and American Lifeline
Today besieged Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak returned to the airwaves and said he would step down....after serving out the remainder of his "term" until new elections are held in September. This closely matches a "suggestion" made to Mubarak by a diplomat sent by Secretary Clinton and President Obama.
But what is really happening? I noticed something fascinating about the coverage of this turn of events. Note the New York Times page above, "Mubarak Won't Seek New Term" with the almost after-thought subhead of "Opposition Demands He Leave Sooner." Now compare this to the front page of the Al Jazeera English webpage, the Qatar-based newspaper that helped ignite the wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East:
"Defiant Mubarak vows to finish term." What a difference of emphasis! So who's right? Is the NYT insinuating that diplomacy is successful -- or are they expressing the ambivalence of a historically pro-Israel newspaper which is fearful of an Egypt breaking free into uncharted territory? And Al Jazeera -- sensationalist? Or are they being more truthful, calling Mubarak's maneuver a last-ditch attempt to cling to keep his own ruling clique in power?
President Obama spoke today after Mubarak: "Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people....Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear -- and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak -- is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now."
As'ad abu Khalil of the Angry Arab News Service is having none of this: "As soon as I saw the defiant tone and substance of Mubarak's speech, I realized that he is not speaking for himself but for the US/Israeli sponsors. Israel erred before the Arab people by exposing her intense panic and fear from the prospect of an Arab democracy next door. Of course, Obama would take note and he consulted with his key adviser on the Middle East, Netanyahu. I just read the speech by Obama: it confirmed my suspicion, that basically Mubarak was permitted by the US to do with the Egyptian people as he would like... The speech by Obama was a not-so-coded language that let Mubarak do what he wish: the talk about transition means that he was basically told to stay in power, because Israel really freaked out at the prospect of Egypt without Mubarak."
So Obama says he abhors violence, and that the upcoming elections should be free and fair. But does this mean anything at all if Mubarak is allowed to remain at the helm for the next seven months? What does it mean that American aid will continue to flow to the military machines of the region: to Egypt, to Israel, to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia, to Yemen. The trail of money and weapons is visible to all: it's certainly visible to the protesters in Egypt. Isn't it hollow of Obama to say he abhors violence if he continued to fuel the threat of violent repression against the region's protesters?
According to AP, Mubarak's "speech was immediately derided by protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Watching on a giant TV, protesters booed and waved their shoes over their heads at his image in a sign of contempt. "Go, go, go! We are not leaving until he leaves," they chanted. So maybe there's the answer.
[By the way I have alluded to the role of Israel in all this. From an article by Reuters about the reaction of the Israeli media to the Egyptian events: "One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled "A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam." It accused Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks. Who is advising them, he asked, "to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president ... an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?" That's pretty clear!]
It might not be clear who will emerge out of the protests to challenge Mubarak for leadership -- but it's certainly clear that the tightrope being walked by the U.S. is getting thinner and thinner.