Obama and Egyptian Liberation
President Barack Obama needs to stop being two-faced on Egypt.
On one side of his public face he gives the impression of pressing Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to consider his legacy and “leave power in a way that would give his country the best chance for peace and democracy.”
But then he sent presidential envoy Frank Wisner to Cairo, who later publicly urged Mubarak to remain in power, saying, “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical.”
In the realpolitik world of Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton it made sense to send someone Mubarak knew to deliver their message. Wisner’s Washington-based law firm, Patton Boggs works for the dictator’s government.
After being called out on the Egyptian streets for Wisner’s comments the Administration put out that his comments “were his own” as though Wisner were some “disavowed” member of the mythical “IMF” – Impossible Missions Force.
Yet tossing Wisner into the fray is consistent with Clinton’s initial expression of “confidence in the stability of his [Mubarak] regime” and Vice-President Joe Biden saying, “I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
Even so, it leaves Obama (and the rest of world) where we started out – what’s the United States’ response to the unraveling of neo-colonialism?
Obama should consider his own legacy and let the American people know whose side he’s on: the dictator’s, or those who clamor courageously for democracy.
The most often used word coming from the Obama Administration is “transition” which suggests they are biding their time. Which boils down to what Egyptians protesters clearly see, feel and hear. That U.S. officials “speak about their own interest, not ours.” Another said: “Tell America that we get to choose our president . . . not them.” Yet another opined: “We believe America is against us.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient, has blasted Obama’s stance by saying: “To ask a dictator to implement democratic measures after thirty years in power is an oxymoron. It will not end until he leaves.”
Unlike Obama, ElBaradei actually earned his Nobel Peace Prize while serving at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). He stuck his neck out against George W. Bush over his false claims that Iraq had a nuclear program along with stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in 2002, and in 2003 he revealed that the documents that the Bush White House had touted about Iraq’s alleged purchase of uranium in Niger were fabricated. He also battled the Bush administration over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.
In demanding an end to Mubarak’s dictatorship, ElBaradei stands alongside Nawal El Saadawi, a leading Egyptian feminist, sociologist, medical doctor and writer.
He stands alongside Ahmad Maher, the 28-year-old construction engineer and leader of the secular, pro-labor April 6 movement (which takes its name from April 6, 2008, when a series of strikes and labor actions by textile workers in Mahalla led to a growing general strike by workers and residents and then, on April 6, faced a brutal crackdown by security forces).
He stands alongside Asma Mahfouz whose Internet video outlng Mubarak’s abuses went viral.
He stands alongside Wael Ghonim, the Google employee detained for two weeks by Egyptian security forces as the January protest in Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square began.
He stands alongside dissident Ayman Nour, a former presidential candidate and member of the Egyptian Parliament and chair of the El Ghad party who was imprisoned in 2005 by the Mubarak government for political reasons and released on health grounds in 2009.
They all stand alongside the National Association for Change, the Egyptian Movement for Change, members of the Facebook-formed We Are All Khaled Said group (named after a man whose death in a brutal police beating was captured in a photograph circulated over the Internet), The Muslim Brotherhood, and other banned political parties and organizations such as Kefaya, The Democratic Front and the liberal Wafd (which means “delegation), just to name a few.
They, and millions of other Egyptians, are facing and fighting injustice.
Meanwhile, Obama seems intent on managing injustice.
The reasoning the Nobel Peace Prize committee used to justify what many considered a “premature” award, an honor that Obama admitted, “ he didn’t deserve…” was the hope “that he would live up to it.”
What the world has witnessed from him to this point is: an increase in the use of deadly unmanned drones wreaking “collateral damage” in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s tribal areas, support for an assassination program, contractors replacing soldiers in Iraq, an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and backtracking on the closing of Guantánamo Bay, just to name a few of the disappointments.
This leaves people asking: “When will Obama do something in the name of peace?”
A foreign policy with peace at its core would mean: instead of sending more US warships to the region, reapportion some of the $1.3 billion plus in annual military aid compared to about $250 million in economic aid to Egypt, so that a much greater share goes directly to people instead of the military; that the United States will no longer “rendered” unto Egypt (or anyplace else) alledged “terrorists” kidnapped by the U.S. who are then tortured by the same secret police that have been torturing, terrrorizing, extorting and abusing the Egyptian people; investigation and prosecution of U.S. officials who have ordered renderings, and public discloure and status of those individuals taken without an open and due process and; a focus on freedom, democracy and universal human rights instead of global capitalism/corporatism and militarism.
Obama shouldn’t be playing games with the Egyptian people, but that’s what he’s doing. At the moment, the Obama administration seems to be hoping that Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s spy chief and now vice president, can reshuffle the totalitarian government and things will quiet down. Suleiman was Washington’s “point man” in Egypt for the policy of renditions. This is the CIA’s illegal policy of kidnapping detainees and shipping them to foreign countries, like Egypt, where they were tortured. Suleiman himself has a chilling reputation when it comes to torture.
In the mid-1990s, Suleiman worked with the Bill Clinton’s administration in devising and implementing its rendition program. Back then, rendition involved kidnapping suspected terrorists and transferring them to a third country for trial. Under the Bush administration, US renditions became “extraordinary,” meaning the objective of kidnapping and extra-legal transfer was no longer to bring a suspect to trial – but rather for interrogation to seek actionable intelligence – by any means necessary. The extraordinary rendition program landed some people in CIA black sites – and others were turned over for torture-by-proxy to U.S. dependent regimes. Egypt figured large as a torture destination of choice, as did Suleiman as Egypt’s torturer-in-chief. Suleiman himself reportedly tortured at least one person extraordinarily rendered by the CIA to Egypt —Egyptian-born Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib.
So one thing is for certain: Suleiman is not the man to bring democracy to the country. His hands are “too dirty and bloody.”
And given the history of the security police in Egypt, at the top of the reformers’ list is establishing a criminal justice system based on human and civil rights protections, reform (and prosecution) of some members of the police and secret security forces with the possible elimination of the latter. Consequently, with the elimination of the secret police, the U.S. will have to do its own dirty work.
Obama should be standing squarely not with Suleiman but with the Egyptian people and their right to reject an oppressive and brutal regime.
And we should not demand or expect the Egyptian people to automatically put U.S. interests before their own, especially as they endure being fired upon by tear gas canisters with “made in the USA” written on them.
If the United States is going to talk the talk of freedom and democracy, then it has to walk the walk. Anything less is hypocritical.
KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike! The Fundamentals of Black Politics, published by CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.