Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How U.S. foreign policy stifles democracy in the Middle East

, Reason.com,  March 14, 2011

Watching recent events in Egypt I have had a sense of both surreal distance and of personal connection. Distance because it is hard to imagine that American “friend” Hosni Mubarak, recipient of more than $45 billion of U.S. military and economic aid, has finally been called out for his acts of brutal repression. Connection because one of the people Mubarak imprisoned was my brother-in-law.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim is an Egyptian academic sociologist and democracy activist. He is also married to my step-sister Barbara. In 2000 Saad was arrested by the national police, and charged by the Mubarak regime with embezzlement and defaming Egypt’s image.
What Saad had actually done was to obtain a large academic grant from the European Union and spend it on research. He also publicly asked when Egypt was going to have free and fair elections. In response, Saad was sentenced to seven years of hard labor. Given the state of Egyptian prisons, and Saad’s physical condition and age, it could have been a death sentence. He was finally released three years later.

I remember talking to Saad after he got out. His view of the American role was heartbreaking. Democracy activists in Egypt, and throughout the Middle East, had to distance themselves from America, he said. U.S. support for Mubarak was tarnishing America’s image, just as Mubarak himself was tarnishing Egypt’s image. How did we get to that point?
The answer is that American foreign policy seems to rest on a simple premise: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Except it’s not simple. It’s a blatant double standard. Our attitude seems to be, “Sure, that dictator is a murderous thug, but he’s our murderous thug”

Letting our enemies choose our friends is also dangerous. The U.S. supplied the rockets that the mujahedeen used to attack Russian helicopters in Afghanistan. Now we call the mujahedeen the Taliban, and they kill Americans. We also propped up Saddam Hussein and a host of other brutes who started out as docile U.S. puppets.

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