Monday, August 19, 2013

U.S. Hubris in Egypt

John McCain has become the latest public figure to attack President Obama for refusing to cut off aid to Egypt’s government after the military staged a coup and mowed down supporters of the deposed President, Mohamed Morsi.  Such economic support undermines the claim of the U.S. to be a disinterested party, because the aid both legitimises and helps to finance what is clearly an illegitimate regime.

The Guardian describes, however, how other individuals and interests are urging the U.S. to maintain support for the generals.

The dictatorial Saudi government, which sent troops to suppress a democratic rising in neighbouring Bahrain during the Arab Spring, is urging the U.S. to stand by the generals.

Unbelievably, Democratic congressman Eliot Engel urged support for the military coup using the following logic: “We essentially have two choices in Egypt, and that’s a military government or the Muslim brotherhood.  I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is a choice”.

That is a frighteningly arrogant thing to say, and demonstrates how the U.S. manages to alienate so many people both around the world in general and in the Middle East in particular.  Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, won a general election.  That is, in the run-off campaign, a majority of Egyptians voted for his candidacy.  In the months after that election, Morsi abused his power, sparking massive demonstrations in the streets which the military used as a pretext for intervention. 

A member of the United States’ government is now saying that Egyptian voters’ choice is essentially unacceptable to the U.S.  Engel is arguing that the U.S. would rather support a military government which deposes civilian leaders at will and massacres people in the streets than respect the outcome of an election.  He would undoubtedly agree with those in the interim Egyptian government who are discussing a ban of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This, in case you ever wondered, is how what we call “terrorist” organisations are born.  Under Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned and harassed, forced to the margins of political life.  After his overthrow, that organisation re-entered the formal political sphere, played by the rules, demonstrated faith in the process, and won an election in spite of apocalyptic warnings from the U.S. about its “extremism”.  Now, backed by the U.S., a military-installed government is threatening to drive the organisation underground once again, which will undoubtedly confirm the worst fears of its members about how little it is possible to gain for its membership by taking part in electoral politics and following the rules.  We can imagine what some of the alternatives might be.

The arrogance of the U.S. in attempting to tell Egyptians what constitutes acceptable opinion and what crosses a line laid down in Washington, is just breathtaking.  Sure, there might be aspects of the party that some don’t like or find threatening, and possibly for good reason.

But that doesn’t mean you ban a party.  The Republican Party in the U.S. is run by a combination of religious fundamentalists and plutocrats, who shamelessly distort government so that it favours the privileged.  Its most lasting political commitment is to increasing economic inequality in the U.S.  Some of its leaders believe the U.S. must remain allied to Israel so that we can find divine favour when the “end times” arrive.  Some of its representatives are openly racist.  Others believe that the woman’s place is sitting quietly in the home (and that those women who do work do not deserve the same pay as men), and its vice-presidential candidate in the last election referred to rape as a “method of conception”.  It has engaged in a series of attacks on civil liberties, undermines international human rights treaties and arms control laws, and practises a policy of international terrorism, using torture, forced disappearance, rendition, and murder.  Its members conspired to manipulate intelligence to wage a war of aggression ten years ago which claimed the lives of over 100,000 people.

I feel threatened by this party.  Its more unhinged leaders make the  radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood look like so many un-ambitious amateurs. 

But we don’t talk about banning the Republican Party.

The U.S. can’t call for democratic elections and then subvert them when the “right” candidate doesn’t win.  They can’t support the suppression of all opinion that doesn’t fit comfortably with the narrow spectrum of political opinion in the U.S.  And if our government does, it should be prepared to face some unpleasant consequences.  It will have earned any opprobrium directed its way.

Punishing those who staged a coup in Egypt does not mean that we have to support the Muslim Brotherhood.  But the U.S. should be consistent in its respect for democratic process, respectful of the rights of other people to elect their representatives, and should refuse to support the Egyptian military, which would readily and as easily overthrow a liberal or leftist government as the more conservative one it just deposed if its own interests were threatened. 

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