Thursday, June 02, 2005

Prisoner #1387

What should our foreign policy be towards Egypt? The problems we confront in Egypt include a 53 year old military dictatorship, supported by the U.S., religious persecution of Copts and Christians, a bloated bureaucracy littered with corruption, and an extremist Islamic Brotherhood waiting in the wings.

What do Egyptians want of us? A recent Middle East poll showed that most Middle Easterners want more aid and less interference. Can Egypt, a society civilized for more than 5000 years, really believe we can settle for that. The earliest markets were based on the maxim 'you can't get something for nothing'. Many Egyptians aren’t even very enthusiastic for Democracy, fearing it would be a one man, one vote, one time affair leaving the MB in charge. They would rather wait until a more secular opposition develops.

Which brings us to Ayman Nour, prisoner #1387. Under the Egyptian Constitution 50 members are required to form a viable political party. Nour had over 5000 special powers of attorney to verify the 50 member requirement. So in 2004 the Tomorrow Party was born. 89 days later Nour was arrested for allegedly forging some of those documents. Safely assuming he did not forge 4951 of them one has to ask why forge any? Especially those of his father's, his wife’s, and his own. Egyptians understand that the charges were ridiculous to the point of making the government look foolish. That he was set up Mr. Nour knows, what he doesn't is why. In a letter from prison he speculates:

But no one, including myself, is sure why precisely I've been jailed. Many pointed to a brief meeting I had with Madeleine Albright a few hours before my arrest. Am I counted as a U.S. agent for brushing shoulders with a foreign dignitary who is out of office? Some sarcastically say that the Egyptian government "fired" me for being too ambitious. Could the government not bear my calls for constitutional reforms? Yet another line of speculation ties my arrest to an interview I gave to Al Horra TV, in which I declared that my party would run in parliamentary elections in 2005; I also called for a constitutional amendment to allow any Egyptian to run for president. Did I take democracy too seriously?

Should the U.S. pressure Egypt to right this wrong? On the face of it the answer is obvious. If we really support Democratic movements as George Bush has stated numerous times then we must support Ayman Nour. But this is the Middle East. When Codoleezza Rice expressed "deep concerns about Nour's detention some of his supporters bristled at American interference. As today’s only Super Power any action we take will be seen as heavy handed and arrogant, regardless of how many secretly support our actions. So what others 'feel' about us should be of no great concern to us but any actions we take vis-a-vis Mr. Nour has to take into account how it affects him. We do after all want to help not hinder him. I ask my Egyptian Blogger friends what do they believe we should do for Mr. Nour and for Egypt overall. Should we make some of the billions of dollars in aid contingent on Mr. Nour being freed? Contingent on Democratic or economic reforms? Or should we shut up and just give more money?. Before choosing one of those two choices I will remind my Egyptian friends of a third and increasingly popular choice, popular at least in America. We keep our money and let Egypt fend for itself.


DNA said...

Not that keeping the money and letting Egypt fend for itself is such a bad idea.

But you're making an assumption here: first, that Egypt and the Egyptian government want nothing out of the US but help, and secondly, that the US wants nothing out of Egypt but to support it. Both very naive assumptions.

But nevermind. Let's refrain ourselves to 'face' politics - i.e. politics we see in the media and hear about in the press, not the clandestine deals that are done behind closed doors.

On the 'face' of it, the one pressing issue that provides US bashers with fuel, the one issue that all Egyptians rally around, the one issue that makes Egyptians the hypocrits they are (i.e. wishing they could live in the US and yet hating US policy) is: Israel. I think you'd be hard pressed to find an Arab that wants Israel off the map (at least an Arab with more than a few brain cells). What you will find though is unwavering respite for America's unrelenting support for Israel.

I honestly believe that if American makes serious progress on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, a LOT will change.

The threat of being 'attributed' to the US isn't the US as such - it is the associating the US has with Israel, and the fact that those colluding with the US are accused of appeasing Israel. Not necessarily true, but history has helped this because it used to happen in the past.

Outside Israel, what can the US do? Maintain some level of honesty. The rhetoric out of the White House is very hard to swallow in some circles because it seems out of touch with reality. The money is never a concern because normal 'people' hardly see any of it in 'money.' The moral support is a double edged sword: it can do tremendous good, and it can do tremendous harm.

Rancher said...


It’s funny that our policy towards Israel can be interpreted in two far different ways. One is the ‘America's unrelenting support for Israel’ view and the other is the ‘ready to throw Israel to the wolves’ view . The former at it’s most basic is a belief that American foreign policy is controlled by the Jews. In reality most Jews in America are liberal Democrats that have a more progressive attitude toward Palestine than conservative Republicans. The other view is that American insistence on forcing Israel to allow a state to be formed on its’ borders that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction is a betrayal of Israel. The truth of course lies in the middle. We are committed to Israel’s survival. We do not always support Israel’s policies and of course what we support changes as administrations change.

To say that we’d be hard pressed to find an Arab that wants Israel off the map flies in the face of the rhetoric we hear all over the Middle East, even from Abu Masen who’s policy now seems to be get a state first then drive Israel into the sea.

Jason_Pappas said...

I believe we should take a moral stand. We should declare Mubarak morally repugnant and refuse to give another dollar in aid. Mubarak is not our friend; the state controlled media whips up hatred for the US. Yet, he tells us we better support him or there will be worse. This is just a “good cop, bad cop” routine for suckers.

Let’s take the moral path. Let’s make it clear that we support Israel and condemn Egypt because the former is civilized and that latter backwards and hostile. I’m not saying we should break of trade and diplomatic relations at this point. However, we should not financially support those that hate us and breed that hatred.

My view for your consideration.

Rancher said...

Jason, that's the same argument Saudi Arabia makes, we’re not perfect but the alternative is worse. The problem is they're right. Saudi Arabia also supports us in English and stabs us in the back in Arabic. We at least have some leverage in Egypt because of the large amount of aid but don't seem willing to use it. Even taking into account backdoor diplomacy I see no lessening of the hateful rhetoric coming out of the State controlled Egyptian media.

Trevor said...

It seems to me that the U.S. supporting countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia is morally wrong.

Then again, when have morals ever played a part in U.S. politics? Probably not since the founding fathers drafted the Constitution.

The story is a strange one, but no surprise coming from a country as corrupt as Egypt.

My only question: how far is the United States from pursuing similar activities in silencing the enemies of established powers?

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