We Are All Egyptians Now
Well, the uprising continues in Egypt. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s very possible we are entering a watershed period in world history where all sorts of things are going to unravel in the next few years. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to even focus on what’s important. Still, that’s never stopped me from blogging before. I’m also a little out of sorts because I have some friends in Egypt. One of them is a doctor and if I know him at all, he’s out in the streets at no thought to his own safety providing first aid to the wounded. Historical events unfolding kinda take on another dimension when people one knows are in the thick of them.
So, in no particular order, my thoughts about some aspects of this situation. First, some background. There’s two basic things fuelling the protests across the Middle East. One is wealth distribution; the other is western, primarily American, foreign policy in the region. Wealth is easier to understand. Basically the inequalities in the world have been growing in recent decades, both internationally and internally. The world’s poor nations have been getting poorer, and huge numbers of young people are unemployed with grim prospects n the region. I mean, this unrest was triggered by a fellow in Tunisia with a college degree killing himself because he couldn’t even get a permit to sell fruit in the street! And the people in the street know damn well their corrupt western supported governments, mostly dictatorships of some sort or another, are a huge part of the reason that poverty and unemployment are rampant. A subset of this problem is the populations in these countries have been growing quickly and are very young in general. (Nothing like unemployment and poverty to make birth rates spike, I mean, what else is there to do? This is why refugee camps usually have astronomical birthrates.) And when a huge percentage of a population is young, there’s proportionately fewer older wiser people to try and keep cooler heads prevailing. Ever see a mob of old or even middle aged people?
And then foreign policy. While the west has made noises about democracy and human rights in the region, their actions speak much louder than words. Governments that would be pilloried as torture regimes (because they are torture regimes on par with Saddam’s Iraq) are given a pass and propped up with western arms as long as they maintain “stability.” By which I mean they don’t do anything to hinder the region’s oil wealth being plundered and used to fuel development and progress in the west. “Supertankers are the treasure galleons of our time, freeway interchanges the cathedrals” is a very apt analogy. In the rest of the world the west has encouraged at least some democracy, and there are political parties even though the west manages to keep pro-western parties in power for the most part. In the Middle East, despots rule and the US looks the other way.
Another aspect of this that nicely illustrates the incredibly short sighted foreign policy of the USA is Israel. The USA literally bought Israel 30 years of peace with Egypt. Did Israel use that 30 years to settle the Palestinian issue and make peace with its other neighbours? Nope, they used it as an excuse to be completely intransigent on the peace process and put the Palestinians under ever more pressure. Not to mention invading Lebanon and creating Hezbollah and confiscating ever more Palestinian land. Basically Israel spent the three decades of breathing room that the USA so generously bought them by building walls when they should have been building bridges. It’s a pretty safe bet that whatever new governments emerge in the region, they are going to be more supportive of the Palestinian cause than the west’s bought and paid for dictators have been.
So how should the USA and Israel respond to these developments? Well, if we had any real leadership in Washington, we’d jump on the bandwagon and throw the dictators to the crowds so to speak. The results might be messy, but done right, good will towards the US could increase dramatically in the region. In the long run this would be good for US business interests in the region, and would take the wind out of the sails of Al Qaeda and the like. Hell, done right we could even force a settlement to the Palestinian question, a viable Palestinian State would be the worst thing that ever happened to Muslim extremists. Sadly, Eisenhower is long dead and Obama is a cunning domestic politician with zero aptitude for foreign policy. Biden claiming that Mubarak “isn’t a dictator” pretty much sums up our head-in-the-sand approach to the developing situation. (Head-in-the-sand is the diplomatic phrase, enough said.) The only good thing about the US response is that the right wing extremists running Israel now are probably going to react even worse than Washington.
I’m hoping I’m wrong, but I fear the over-reaction to this is going to sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The Middle East is too big now to occupy along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the abject folly of either enterprise didn’t stop the US from trying. NATO troops occupying Egypt? Anything is possible.
(The above image is public domain under US copyright law. Despite the perversions of the concept since, the founding fathers were onto something. We’re all in this together, every human has political and individual rights. And sometimes we have to fight for them. If we stand together, we cannot lose.)