Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Have the American People Spoken to Egypt?

For the United States government to send Egypt wishes of happiness and success is a little like Michael Vick sending words of encouragement to the American Kennel Club.

Can we maintain any degree of credibility in the Middle East now that our duplicity is common knowledge? Or put more accurately: Can we regain or even attain credibility? How?

The word is out that a string of United States presidents supported Hosni Mubarak’s oppressive regime for lo these many decades because it suited us. It was our means to our ends. We got what we wanted from the Egyptian government; and it wasn’t so hard to turn a blind eye to its abuse of its own people. Shame on us.

We’re embarrassed for our President who now must smile and offer his hand (our hands) with a disingenuous blush as he congratulates those who see us for who we’ve been. As Google’s Regional Marketing Manager, Wael Ghonim, unofficial leader of the essentially bloodless revolution said very plainly, “Dear Western Governments: You have been supporting the regime that was oppressing us for 30 years. Please don’t get involved now. We don’t need you.”

In toppling Mubarak, they have, in effect, thrown us off their backs as well.

How cynical we were in the process to show early support for Mubarak’s heir apparent, Vice President Suleiman, when the world has read WikiLeaks. We initially backed the one clearly shown in embassy cables to be Mubarak’s consigliere! “Oops! Forgot you could read. Really, we want the people’s demands to be met. We support their quest for democracy, justice, and empowerment.” How hollow.

I’ve been reminded that the United States was in league with the Russians to win WWI and even with the unspeakable Stalin in WWII. So the enemies of our enemies became our friends. We stood with the unsavory and defeated the devil himself together. But then, when the common goal was achieved, we each withdrew to our respective corners.

Not so with Mubarak or his predecessors. We stuck by them and their cronies. It was convenient, the path of least resistance. Maybe because the goal of our deal with that devil was subterranean, open-ended, a Viet Nam of commitment, our government just kept pretending it was OK. After all, the Egyptian people hadn’t found their voice (or Facebook) yet.

Yes, I know. Politics makes strange bedfellows (see WWI and WWII, above). But if the United States is truly exceptional in the world arena, we’ve got to do better.

We believe in our uniqueness in the world. We built our nation on the concept of freedom and the fundamental right of humans to enjoy all its benefits. But if we don’t have the courage of our founding ideals, we surely will shrivel into the realm of the disrespected and be treated with disregard.

Here’s an idealistic dream: If we encounter another snake in the grass, let’s not make friends with it and bring it mice to eat. And let’s not become obliged to it either. At the very least, let’s step around it. If we want to help human beings, we must help them all, even if it is only through our refusal to support the morally corrupt and self-serving tyrants who oppress them.

Let’s tell the truth and turn away from evil. What evil is necessary? Only that which serves selfish ends. It seems we have soiled ourselves with the evil of abandoning one human for the benefit of another. It’s not okay. Ghonim says it best with the title of his Facebook page which sparked a revolution: “We are all Khaled Said,” referring to a young man beaten to death for speaking out against Mubarak’s brutal police state.

You say you want a revolution? Well you know, we all want to change the world. This time, the world is changing in spite of us. A section of the globe we haven’t heard, or haven’t listened to, is speaking. How have we positioned ourselves to be respected and influential in the conversation?

So it is with mixed emotions that we watch the historic events unfolding in Egypt and across the Middle East: With awe, with joy, and with anticipation for the Egyptian people. With anxiety and hope for the people of Tunisia and Iran, Bahrain and Yemen.

With humble heart for America.