The Pharoah’s Tomb

In my last entry, African Political Upheaval, I made mention of the uprising that was underway in Egypt… which was happening after the people of Tunisia had overthrown their authoritarian government.  All this week the world has watched as the Egyptian people have continued to call for their authoritarian leader to step down and for democracy to take hold.  But this issue isn’t as one sided as one might think.  The US is calling on Egyptian President Mubarak to make necessary reforms that could appease the Egyptian people.  However, the protesters are calling for nothing less than Mubarak and his entire regime stepping down.  The Egyptian government is the strongest in the Middle East/North Africa region, and it is a staunch ally with the US and is one of only two Arab countries that recognize Israel.  In fact, it’s former leader Anwar El Sadat was assassinated in 1981 partly because he had signed a peace accord with Israel that formally recognized the country… known as the Camp David Accords.

The US is being very careful in what it says and does during this time.  In lack of a better phrase, it’s ‘straddling the fence.’  Why?  Since Egypt has been a strong ally, we don’t want to risk alienating the leaders of the current government in case they find a way to remain in power.  However, the protesters are standing up for freedom, democracy, and a representative government.  You might think we should be siding with the people in this case.  But be careful with what you wish for in that regard.

Not to long ago, the US called on another group of people to hold free and open elections to elect their leaders.  That group was the Palestinians, and they elected the militant Islamic-fundamentalist group of Hamas.  But there is one very different aspect in this revolution and that is that it has remained a secular revolution much like happened in Tunisia.  And though Egypt is an Arab world, it does allow other religious faiths to worship there as well.  Close to the Christmas holiday (and I mean the Coptic Christmas), a Coptic Christian church was bombed by Islamic extremists.  However, the people of Egypt came together in a way I wish I would see here in the US.  When it came time for the Christmas celebration, the Muslim community stood arm-in-arm around the church where the Coptic mass was being held and used themselves as human shields against anyone else that might want to attack those that were worshiping.

If the US was to pressure Egyptian President Mubarak to give up his power, where should the line be drawn… if at all?  Should we ask the King Abdullah of Jordan to step aside?  What about the Sauds in Saudi Arabia?  The reason I bring these two nations up specifically… they are allies to the US.  And there is more to consider than just the political ramifications.  As we are all tied together in a global economy, one must consider the economic ones, as well.  Late last week, with the Egyptian revolt intensifying, the stock market plunged 166-points in one day over the simple fear of oil.  Yes… that three letter word again.  However, Egypt isn’t even a major exporter of oil.  So why did it effect the market then?  It’s because Egypt controls a major oil pipeline and the Suez Canal.  Therefore, investors got spooked and oil prices went up and the stock market went down.  Now if Egypt can make it go down 166-points in one day, try to imagine how many points the stock market would drop or how high oil prices would shoot up if the people of Saudi Arabia started revolting against their government.  Saudi Arabia exports massive amounts of oil to the US… second only to Canada.  For a nation that is currently in a fragile recovery from an economic recession, this would definitely send us back.

Now don’t think that I’m supporting an authoritarian regime.  But it is important to consider all sides of an issue as always.  It is very much possible for the people to overthrow the current regime and set up a successful democratic government.  It has happened before in the Philippines and in South Korea.  And we are currently watching to see what the elections will hold in the nation of Tunisia later this year.  So the people do have the ability so long as they don’t allow their revolution to be taken over by religious extremists at any point.  As I stated earlier, so far it has remained a secular revolution.

The mere thought of a nation in revolution in that part of the world for Americans that are old enough conjures up images of the Iranian revolution in 1979… which was a religious revolution… in which the people of Iran revolted against the Shah (which was an authoritarian regime) and installed a religious authoritarian regime.  The main difference, the Shah was pro-Western and a staunch ally to the US that allowed western nations to take advantage of Iran and the Iranian people.   And the really interesting part to this… it was the US in 1953 (Operation Ajax) that overthrew the Iranian government… which became more authoritarian than it had been before.  Why?  Iran’s elected leaders (and the Shah that was the head of the government at that time) privatized the nation’s oil industry, and the western nations wanted access to them.  I should also note that the idea of overthrowing the Iranian regime originally came from the British government and Winston Churchill.

One should also ask if the people are prepared for what could happen if they are successful in overthrowing the Mubarak regime.  It isn’t as cut and dry as you might think.  Overthrowing an authoritarian regime often times leaves a power vacuum that some people are willing to exploit.  And toppling a government and installing a new one doesn’t just happen with the flip of a switch.  Even we in the US struggled after we won our independence from Great Britain.  But more recently, think about Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.  We toppled both governments fairly easily, but that is when the truly hard work started… especially in Iraq when the sudden power vacuum lead to sectarian violence all throughout the nation.

The US is doing exactly what it should be doing for once… staying out of it.  This is an internal Egyptian matter, and they can and will deal with it as they see fit.  We can pressure Egyptian President Mubarak to make the necessary reforms and to install a democratic system of government.  But we must also show our support to the people as they are fighting for ideals that we once fought a war for and that we still hold dear to us.  Last Tuesday night, when President Obama was making his State of the Union address (and the Egyptian revolt was just starting), the President said that the United States was founded on an idea.  It would seem now that the Egyptian people want a part of the idea themselves.  The future of their movement is on them.  Only they should be guiding it.  I watch closely with caution in the hopes that they can be successful in their secular movement.  The rest of the world is watching and waiting to see what comes from this.  And other authoritarian regimes in the region might be starting to sweat a bit more.

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