World Affairs

How it will backfire

The New York Times editors think that the White House has miscalculated in endorsing Omar Suleiman to take over the reins from Mubarak. To any observer of U.S. foreign policy it should be obvious that there has been no miscalculation. The United States has long preferred ‘stability’ over democracy in the South. The euphemism ‘stability’ is a technical word for describing the presence of a pro-Western, pro-Business regime in respectable discourse. No matter how unstable the situation in [insert client state], the U.S. has backed dictators against democratic nationalist movements seeking autonomy and participation consistently.

Towards the end of the first Gulf war, nationalist opposition forces sought U.S. arms and diplomatic support to depose Saddam Hussein.  They were rebuffed and left to be slaughtered by Saddam’s forces. The White House preferred stability.

I could take you on a grand tour of U.S. support for authoritarian regimes. From Suharto in Indonesia to General Musharraf in Pakistan, to the radical Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia and the string of Arab dictatorships across the region, the Shah in Iran, the brutal juntas in Central America and Latin America. But I want to stick to the topic. You can find much of this history here.

I want to make a point that Noam Chomsky recently made in the Guardian.

“A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. The U.S. and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.

A familiar example is Saudi Arabia, the ideological centre of radical Islam (and of Islamic terror). Another in a long list is Zia ul-Haq, the most brutal of Pakistan’s dictators and President Reagan’s favorite, who carried out a programme of radical Islamisation (with Saudi funding).”

Coming back to Egypt, there is hardly any danger of Islamists capturing power so the above argument is even less persuasive. Which is why the current U.S. strategy of supporting Omar Suleiman makes no sense whatsoever. And here is why I think it will backfire:

Its clear that a more democratic regime will replace the current one soon. Washington is pissing people off by supporting a regime insider,  someone who was  the boss of the dreaded intelligence services and despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself. When elections are held, parties competing for votes will be compelled to take a stridently independent stance. Many will campaign on a platform of making Egypt more autonomous. If the U.S. persists in supporting the regime, the next regime could quite possibly be antagonistic to the West in general and the U.S. in particular.

President Obama, if you really don’t want to lose Egypt, stop miscalculating.

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