Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Vented By Marchers
A man in Tahrir Square, Cairo, protests against the US, which faces a dilemma between calls for democracy and concerns for regional stability ?
By Andrew England in Cairo, 1 February 2011, Financial Times, London.
Dotted among the sea of banners at Tuesday’s huge demonstrations deriding Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, and calling for his removal were several carrying a message aimed at another head of state.
“Obama protector of the dictator,” said one; “Game over America, Obama stop supporting tyrants,” said another.
For many Egyptians the US has for decades been guilty of propping up an autocratic regime and pushing its own strategic interests at the expense of Egypt’s long suffering masses.
“America is not representing any democracy, it represents Hosni Mubarak only – he is the sole agent in this region of the Americans,” said Emad Fouad, a 44-year-old geologist.
Since taking power 30 years ago, Mr Mubarak has been a key US ally in the volatile Middle East and Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American military aid.
The Washington-Cairo relationship has remained critical to US interests in the region, though the rapport between the two countries’ leaders has ebbed and flowed, with a noticeable frostiness between Mr Mubarak and George W. Bush.
Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. It shares a border with the Jewish state and Mr Mubarak has been seen as an important force in the battle against Islamist extremism.
Yet, for many Egyptians, the strong diplomatic ties have come at the expense of democracy. Washington is widely criticised for hypocrisy and double standards when dealing with its allies in the Arab world.
“America invaded the whole world to achieve democracy – Iraq, Afghanistan. And what they are trying to do in Palestine and southern Sudan – almost the whole world?” said Emed Sayeed, a lawyer brandishing the banner accusing Barack Obama, US president, of protecting dictators. “But when democracy comes to the point of it opposing its interests in the region, America preferred its interests to the principle. That is the ugly face of America.”
The unprecedented scale of the protests in Cairo has left Washington in a dilemma – torn between the deafening calls for democratic change rising from Egypt’s streets and its concerns for stability in the region.
Cairo was the place Mr Obama chose to make his historic June 2009 speech intended to reach out to the Muslim world. But much of the goodwill he enjoyed then has melted away, as many Arabs believe his actions have failed to live up to expectations.
And in the wake of Egypt’s protests , which have sent shockwaves through the Middle East, many Egyptians have interpreted the messages coming out of Washington as an attempt to take the middle road that meekly backs the democracy protesters.
In a YouTube message last week, Mr Obama praised Mr Mubarak for being “very helpful” on Middle East policy. But he also called for reform.
“I’ve always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform – political reform, economic reform – is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt,” he said. Yet for many Egyptians who have been swept up in the frenzy calling for Mr Mubarak’s immediate removal, reform is not enough.
“The train of change is unstoppable. If Obama wants to stay with Mubarak, he’s gambling,” said Sayeed Khattab, 33, who works at the stock market. “If they still support Mr Mubarak, it will be the third great war – the people will not go back, dead or alive.”
Others insisted Egyptians would decide their own fate and lashed out the notion that foreign powers could influence events.
“We do not need any help from the US, or our enemies, Israel, the UK and France,” said Hamdi, an accountant.
“They make psychological war against us so that we lose our dignity, to make us lose our power. Our priority is to depend on ourselves.”
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