The riots in Egypt have rocked headlines worldwide for over two weeks now. Though what started as a peaceful protest has slowly escalated to a more violent and angry organizing of the Egyptian people, the farther-reaching implications of this incident are impressive.
On some level, it probably doesn’t matter if Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak leaves office tomorrow or in September; the people have spoken. Like in Tunisia before them, the Arab world is rising up against its tyrannical leaders with strength and great courage. When the protests first began, the first question I asked myself is why didn’t this happen sooner? After all, it isn’t breaking news that the Egyptian people have been oppressed by a dictatorship for over 30 years.
Though I don’t completely have an answer, there is no way to deny that there is a connection between the ability for such a thing to go unnoticed by most people and the policy that the United States uses in the Middle East.
I believe that the more obvious day-to-day issues plaguing many of the countries in the Middle East gets overshadowed by a fixation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and nuclear armament in Iran. Though these issues are important and not to be undermined, they distract us from the fact that, according to Freedom House, the Middle East has some of the lowest levels of democracy and highest levels of oppressive regimes in the world.
I believe that, thanks to the protests in Egypt, this key issue is finally gaining steam in the media.
I can only hope that the attention that Egypt is receiving now will shed light on the way in which so many Arab governments deny the basic human rights of its citizens, oppressing women and homosexuals particularly.
If the U.S. spent half as much time worrying about oil and its own self-interests in the region, there might not have been need for the protests that we see today. As inspiring as they are, they are a result of a build up of frustrations, which, in large part, are supported by the U.S. standing behind Mubarak. The U.S. has failed at spreading democracy in the Middle East.
So in the end, it has settled with supporting dictators who, though are bad to their people, are stable and can be counted upon for support when the U.S. needs it, and to keep a peaceful relationship with Israel (a major U.S. ally).
No wonder it took so long for President Barack Obama to say anything about the issue; where does a country like the U.S. stand when Egyptians are protesting a government that oppresses them when the U.S. has been supporting them politically and financially for years? Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!
The point of this conversation is not to criticize the U.S. any further than necessary. Democracy doesn’t work everywhere, and I would be the first person to stand up and say we have no right to try and force it upon countries that are plain uninterested.
The important point to walk away with here is this: more attention needs to be paid to the oppressive acts and human rights violations of governments like the Egyptian one; and it is important to keep our eye on the relationship that the U.S. has with countries like Egypt. We should expect more from our country than it’s ability to turn a blind eye to these violations for the sake of a continued stable relationship and “moderate” Egypt.