Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt - a brief look back

You know, with as short an attention span as the average American has, you'd think that the recent uprising in Egypt would have disappeared from the radar. After all, the first major protests against Mubarak started on January 25, and his government was overthrown in two and a half weeks.

And now, here we are, with a military council in power, saying that they'll ensure an orderly transition to an elected government. It's over, and American Idol is on. Why are people still paying attention?

Maybe it's the cognitive dissonance. We like democracy, but only on our terms.

Muhammed Hosni Sayyid Mubarak is not a nice man. He ruled Egypt for thirty years, primarily because the Egyptian constitution set him to be "elected" by a referendum of the Assembly, and nobody could run against him. When he grudgingly allowed a "democratic election" in 2005, he "won" by 89% of the vote, in an election so openly rigged that the Egyptians rioted in the streets. Mubarak's response? He had his chief political rival, Ayman Nour, convicted to five years hard labor.

(What Nour was claiming was, of course, totally unfair: of course you buy votes in poorer neighborhoods - that's just basic economics; and if security forces prevented people from voting for opposition candidates, sometimes with simple beatings, sometimes with tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live bullets - well, that's just high spirits on the part of patriots, right?)

Mubarak's government openly persecuted political opponents, and was a willing participant in Bush's policy of extraordinary rendition* (often orchestrated directly by his vice president, Omar Suleiman, who might have ended up in charge of Egypt had the the Egyptian people not opposed the "orderly transition" supported by the US and European governments).

Mubarak's police and security forces were blatant in their abuses:
In one video, a woman is forced to strip and is abused by a police officer and in another Egyptian mini-bus driver, Emad el-Kabir... is shown screaming on the floor as officers sodomize him with a wooden pole. The police then sent the video to el-Kabir’s friends to humiliate him. These videos remove the abstract quality of the debate over U.S. torture policies, both in terms of waterboarding and extraordinary renditions.

Both of the videos were put on Youtube and have been seen around the world. What is most striking about the el-Kabir video is that the police were so unconcerned about disclosure of torture that they sent it to the victim’s friends. It was only due to Youtube and public outcry that the officers were given relatively short prison sentences.
The Mubarak family amassed billions in crooked deals during his time with the government (both as a politician and earlier, as a high-ranking army officer).

The notably corrupt* Egyptian government bears some striking parallels to Iraq under Saddam Hussein: an almost cartoonish dictator (who was grooming one of this two sons for succession), security forces kidnapping people off the streets for rape and torture, corruption throughout all levels of government. But the American right wing cheered when Saddam was brought down. Why are they sobbing and clutching their pearls now that Mubarak has been ousted?

Is it because we weren't involved with the overthrow of this government?

Well, let's consider some of the people we did help put into power: the Shah of Iran; the Somoza family of Nicaragua; "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti; General Suharto of Indonesia. (This ignores all the dictators America has helped keep in power.)

Maybe allowing other countries to decide their own fate is the best policy.


* Note: Microsoft Word documents

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