Monday, December 17, 2012

The Obama Middle East Experiment

US President Mr. Barak Obama made a speech in Cairo University on June 4th 2009 . In his, almost hour long speech, Mr. Obama outlined the United States future Middle East policy. As Mr. Obama starts his second term in office it becomes critical to examine, how did the actions of the Obama administration match the content of the Cairo speech; and possibly predict what lies ahead, specifically for my beloved birthplace and homeland, Egypt.  

Following extracts from Obama speech about democracy are particularly relevant:

“I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”

The Obama administration followed the premise of the Cairo speech above and, largely, stood by the side of the peaceful demonstrators against the longtime dictator and US ally Hosni Mubarak, which led to his fall and a transition period run by his top Generals. The transition period was marred by human rights violations that rivaled the Mubarak thirty-year era. As the transition period ended with the presidential elections between two undesirable candidates; the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mr. Mohammed Morsi vs. Mr. Ahmad Shafiq who was a Mubarak loyalist and his last prime minster. On June 24, 2012 the Muslim Brotherhood candidate won the elections by 51.7% of the vote, following agreeing but not guaranteeing a number of  concessions to the revolutionary opposition, who agreed to back Morsi. The revolutionary camp could not contemplate the idea of an ex-army general, with strong ties to the Mubarak regime, as president. Alleged back-room deals between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army generals paved the way for declaring Morsi winner.

 On November 22, 2012 Egypt entered another phase of political instability when Mr. Morsi issued a declaration designed to protect the work of the Constituent Assembly drafting the new constitution from judicial interference. This declaration, in effect,  immuned Mr. Morsi's actions from any legal challenge. The sweeping declaration had other articles designed to appease the masses such as retrials of those accused of killings peaceful protestors during the Mubarak era. Such articles added no real legal value, as they required new evidence to be presented to justify these retrials. Peaceful protests erupted immediately in Egypt demanding withdrawal of the declaration and formation of a new Constituent Assembly that is balanced and representative of all Egyptians instead of the current assembly that is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi and other Islamist supporters. The Muslim Brotherhood armed militias dealt with these protests utilizing brutal force killing 6 protestors and wounding hundreds. Two Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed in the ensuing clashes.

The Obama administration, at this critical moment, faces a critical test regarding its true intentions for Egypt's fledgling democracy. It is becoming apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood and their president advocated democracy when they were out of power; once in power they became ruthless in suppressing the very same democracy that got them into power, not unlike what Mr. Obama predicted in his Cairo speech. So far the Egyptian people are getting mixed signals from Washington, on the one hand, the Obama administration stood by Morsi as a pay back to the ceasefire he helped broker between Israel and Hamas, on the other hand the Obama administration started slowly to pull away from the Egyptian regime hoping to nudge the Muslim Brotherhood into negotiating with their opposition.  

There are few questions upon us at this point. Could the Obama administration have predicted the outcome in Egypt as it is today?  Yes! The US administration knew well the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood as a supremacist organization which has been aiming to gain control over Egypt for over eighty years and would use all possible legal and illegal means to achieve its goal.  It is also apparent to a student of history such as Mr. Obama, that the Muslim Brotherhood will stop at nothing to spread its reach over the Arab and Muslim worlds to re-establish the lost Islamic Caliphate.

Could the Obama administration have changed the outcome in Egypt? No! The Obama administration did not have much choice in the outcome thus far.  The Muslim Brotherhood was the only organized group when the Mubarak regime fell in February 2011 and was the only force willing to provide concessions and guarantees to both the US government and the Egyptian military.  Also the Obama administration stayed away from changing the outcome because it did not wish to repeat the past mistakes as in Iran when the US supported the brutal Shah regime to the bitter end and gained an unrelenting enemy, and in Algeria when the US government supported an army overthrow over elected Islamists resulting in a bloody, decade long, civil war with an estimated 200,000 casualties.

Does the Obama administration know if the Muslim Brotherhood is bound to fail in running Egypt as a country? Yes! I need to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt in this and assume that the administration is fully aware of the limitations of the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization who operated underground for eighty years and recruited members, not based on talent or merit, but rather based on obedience to the internal hierarchy of the Brotherhood structure all the way to its supreme Guide Mr. Mohammed Badie and his more influential deputy Mr. Khairat El-Shater.  The Muslim Brotherhood organization has demonstrated thus far, its lack of vision, management and communication skills to solve Egypt's problems and will, likely, fail politically and economically. Currently, the Obama administration is attempting to change the outcome of  events by influencing the flow of aid and loans from the US, The European Union, the IMF and also from the rich Arab Gulf States and tying this flow of aid to ensure a more democratic transition. 

Even Qatar, a traditional supporter of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, contributed two Billion Dollars to the regime in the form of a certificate of deposit which can be withdrawn upon demand. The path to the Muslim Brotherhood demise is clear, however the price that the Egyptian people will pay will be very dear both in human and economic terms. The Brotherhood is  fighting a war of survival, they know well that if they lose this round, there would virtually be, no chance they will be able to recover because the Egyptian people will defeat their ideology. As for the Obama administration the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood will come at almost no cost and without US army involvement in the conflict. Obama also predicted the following in his speech when describing the path to democracy “There is no straight line to realize this promise”. Was he telling the Egyptian people your path from dictatorship to democracy is not straight and will unfortunately have a Muslim Brotherhood stop along the way? Only time and the Egyptian people will tell how this Obama experiment will end.

Michael Wahba
December 15, 2012

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