Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Obama on Egypt

Dear President Obama,

I am writing in the hope that you and your administration will do whatever you can to support democracy protests in Egypt which are at this moment coming under what appears to be a coordinated attack by armed henchmen of the dictator who your administration has hitherto aided and abetted with moral and material support, and whose legitimacy was defended by your Vice-President mere days ago.

If there is anything more unconscionable than undemocratic governance, it is the maintenance of that political framework through the kind of naked force by which Mubarak today clings to power. It is brute intimidation, the persecution of the press and assaults on journalists, and reliance on the reticence of your government and others that sustain forces of oppression.

In your inaugural speech, you declared that “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent” should “know that [they] are on the wrong side of history”. Yesterday, Representative Kay Granger suggested that the U.S. should refrain from using its massive grant of military aid to a nation that count 20% of its inhabitants below the poverty line as a bargaining chip.

But if foreign policy is about protecting U.S. interests, and if, as you have suggested, those interests are tied to democratic governance, is it not the height of absurdity to abandon what powers of persuasion we might possess? This would be an abdication of both our responsibility as a people and our obligation as a nation notionally committed to ideals of human rights and democracy.

Yours is an administration that is waging three secretive and bloody wars—in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—some more of our choosing than others. Yours is a promise riven by contradictions and caught in a turbulent mixture of promises fulfilled and others unkept or forgotten. But the profoundly moving events in Egypt offer you and our country an opportunity.

The people who are gathered, bloody and bruised, but still upright, in Tahrir Square are fired by the notion that they, like another people at the very cusp of political liberation many years ago, have a “tryst with destiny”. What Jawaharlal Nehru said of India is true of Egypt: “the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance” at the kind of moment that “comes but rarely in history”.

If the Egyptian military moves to crush pro-democracy forces in the coming days, or if a dictator’s militias are allowed to plunge bloodily into the square which will now be remembered across the world as a stage on which long-unvoiced aspirations rang loud and strong, it will not be forgotten that the United States stood quietly by. Nor will the same be forgotten if Egypt moves into a new, freer era, unsupported by a country which purports to count itself as a bastion of liberty.

Whether we like it or not, the President of the United States is in many ways the representation of our national moral conscience. You should not shy from doing what is right at this moment.


Jeff Schauer

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