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Not Good Enough, Mr. President

2011 February 3

President Obama on Tuesday not calling for President Mubarak's immediate renunciation of power

In the ten days since the eruption of the Egyptian revolution, President Mubarak’s government has shut down Egyptian Internet and cell phone signals, closed Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau and revoked the licenses of its correspondents, declared repeatedly that it will not respond to the cries of its people, and, just yesterday, turned gunfire and mounted thugs on peaceful protestors in Tahrir Square.  This, of course, is in addition to the thirty years of corrupt tyranny Mubarak’s regime enjoyed prior to last week’s uprising.  Despite this administration’s long legacy of despotism, the unprecedented revocations of critical and communicative outlets, and yesterday’s unabashed display of hired brutality, the President of the United States has yet to call for Mubarak’s immediate dismissal.

On January 28 and February 1, President Obama addressed the revolution directly.  Tuesday’s speech was given after conversing with the Egyptian President following his insulting declaration that he will not seek another term this September.  I cannot be sure what the Egyptian people heard of Obama’s most recent address, but I am certain they would have wept to hear another opportunity to demand Mubarak’s immediate departure missed.

What the President did say (in the loosest, most meaningless sense of the word) was that Mubarak’s “transition” must be meaningful (no irony intended, apparently), peaceful, and “must begin now.”  If this all seems a bit driveling and inconsequential, that’s because it is.

It must be said that Obama’s disappointing vagueness has thankfully not been the standard in Washington.  Senators John Kerry and John McCain have spoken out against Mubarak’s prolonged tenure and drafted a resolution calling for his express removal.  Representative Dennis Kucinich has also written to the same effect, stating what one wishes was obvious to his colleagues in the capital: “It is time for the United States government to stand with the people of Egypt as well by ending its long-standing support of the corrupt and repressive Mubarak regime. Absent such a statement, our calls for democracy in the region ring hollow.”  No such explicit renunciation has yet been spoken by our President.

However, President Obama did describe an opposition to violence as the first of his administration’s three “core principles.”  I imagine this message might be unclear to an Egyptian democrat who has even the faintest knowledge of the manner in which the United States is supporting democracy in Iraq.  It is fortunate for the Egyptian people that their military has a more thorough appreciation of nonviolence.

Egypt’s newly appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq has spoken with unprecedented clarity in opposition to the thuggery employed by his own government, calling yesterday’s ambush a “blatant mistake” and offering an emphatic apology, saying: “What happened was wrong, a million percent wrong, whether it was deliberate or not deliberate . . . Everything that happened yesterday will be investigated so everyone knows who was behind it.”

As the violence continues in Cairo and Alexandria, the moment for President Obama’s clear and unequivocal renunciation of support for Mubarak’s regime and the need for its abrupt disbandment has already come and gone.  Every moment henceforth is a moment wasted.  Every life lost is, too, on our hands.  Tuesday’s address was not the unmistakable call for resignation the people of Egypt are so fiercely and inspiringly seeking.  Instead, it was a bland and insignificant call that the subsequent two days demonstrated was entirely devoid of consequence.  Not until our government takes a firm and active stance against not only the perpetuation of this autocracy but the monetary support thereof can we be free of implication in its injustices.  If the President feels he lacks the vocabulary required for such clarity, he need look no further than Tahrir Square and the echo of Egypt’s resounding calls: “Leave!  Leave!  Leave!”

Mr. President, your repudiation of this despotism and your call for its immediate end must be unambiguous and it must happen now.

3 Responses
  1. Jessie S. permalink
    February 6, 2011

    The view of the West (especially the U.S.) throughout the Middle East (with exception to Israel) is one of extreme mistrust due to an abundance of empty promises and the clear imperialist motivations in U.S. and Great Britain’s foreign policy. That said, the U.S. is now put into a paradoxical situation. If we put our support behind one leader of the protests his popularity will plummet yet if we do not show our disgust for Mubarak and unrestrained support for peaceful protests, our relationship with Egypt will continue to deteriorate.
    I think it’s natural for people to want change to come as quickly and as cleanly as possible, but I believe that the U.S. government’s lack of immediate, strong action in regards to Egypt is not a sign of an ineffective government but in fact the exact opposite. I want Obama’s administration to take time to determine how to move forward because this is a make it or break it point for the U.S.’s relationship with almost all of the Middle East.
    Even many Egyptian political leaders and political pundits from all of the world have been advising that the U.S. just stay out. Our best move would be to show our clear support for the Egyptian people and to denounce Mubarak.
    What the Egyptian people really want is to finally rid themselves completely of colonial, neocolonial and imperialist influence. And if we once again stick our hand into their government and mold it the “American” way, unrest will still continue. Let them find their way.

    • February 6, 2011

      Good points, Jessie. I would note, though, that opposition leaders including Mohammed ElBaradei, whom John McCain recently characterized as an enemy of America, have been issuing calls steadily for the U.S. to demand Mubarak’s ouster. My latest dispatches on the Egyptian situation will be published tomorrow. I hope you’ll provide feedback.

    • Brian Fabry Dorsam permalink
      February 6, 2011


      I think we agree. Stepping in and molding their government is surely not what we need to do, but allying ourselves with peaceful proponents of just democracy in the face of three decades of tyranny and exploitation seems, to me, to be a pretty low bar. I would at least hope that we could get behind that cause. We can ‘stay out’ (letting them find their way, as you have it) and still voice our solidarity. As the days continue I grow more and more disappointed that this support has not yet been given. It is confusing to me that we can so firmly hold the spread of democracy as an essential passion of ours and yet not muster supportive words for such work in Egypt.

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