Monday, 1 October 2007

HOSNI MUBARAK & THE USA

'Your best friend hates you'


By Ibrahim El Houdaiby,
Conflicts Forum,
September 30, 2007

Of all the puzzling remarks made by Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, naming Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak
and his regime as one of America’s strongest and most
strategic allies in the Middle East is perhaps the most
puzzling.

anti-americanism.jpgWhat is strange about the statement is
that it portrays one of the strongest proponents of
anti-Americanism in the Middle East as one of America’s
closest friends. It seems that Ms Rice, just like other
senior politicians and decision-makers in America, were
fooled by the Egyptian regime’s international facade, which
does not reveal its reality.

The Egyptian regime was named as America’s regional best
friend because of its unreserved willingness to comply with
the American foreign policy agenda. It has demonstrated
this by providing logistical assistance for the US invading
troops during the war on Iraq, by its stance towards the
Palestinian-Israeli struggle, and most importantly during
the last months when Hamas came to power, by its
willingness not to challenge American policies in the
Middle East. Yet, these reasons should not qualify the
Egyptian regime as a “friend” or an “ally” that genuinely
shares common interests with the American administration,
or actually supports its policies.

The Egyptian regime adheres to the US foreign policy agenda
solely because it needs the US support as a source of
legitimacy to substitute its eroding internal popularity.
Clear from what the late president Anwar Sadat said, the
regime similarly believes that the United States controls
“99% of the game” of politics in the Middle East. It is a
perfect source of power and legitimacy to rely on and build
relations with in order to maintain power.

But doing so requires that the Egyptian regime maintains a
monopoly in having relations with the US. The reason is
rather straightforward: if different political groups were
able to develop relations with the US, they would be able
to discuss different issues and reach a common
understanding on some of those issues. Most importantly,
they would be able to objectively present themselves, and
consequently overcome the negative images of the political
opposition that have been propagated by the Egyptian
regime. But if this happened, there would then be no
justification for the American administration to continue
its unchecked support for one of the world’s most
repressive, tyrannical, corrupt and authoritarian regimes.
Therefore, maintaining a monopoly over relations with the
US is a critical necessity for Mubarak’s regime for it to
maintain its illegitimate rule — rule that has been ongoing
for over 50 years, 26 of which have been under the same,
never-democratically-elected president.

To maintain this monopoly the Egyptian regime uses its
media outlets, most importantly newspapers and local TV
Channels, to promote anti-Americanism. Through its
anti-American sentiment, the regime portrays itself as a
patriotic regime that takes strong stances against US
foreign policy. The regime, which secretly provided
logistical assistance for US forces illegally invading
Iraq, nevertheless publicly opposed the war and spoke out
loudly against it. The regime’s president, who refused to
meet any member of the democratically-elected Palestinian
cabinet, publicly supported the “democratic choice” of the
Palestinian people (as if he had any respect to democracy!)
yet collaborated with international players, and other
Palestinian factions in besieging it. The regime makes it a
point to exaggerate its anti-American sentiment, so as to
divert attention away from its concessions and unchecked
adherence to the American policy in the Middle East.

Parallel to its anti-American sentiment, the regime defames
as traitors any of its opponents who attempt to have any
dialogue with the United States. A few years ago, the
well-known liberal sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim was
sentenced to 5 years in prison for “providing information
that distorts Egypt image to external parties.” Of course
the information was nothing more than election statistics,
and Ibrahim was released a few months later, thanks to
American pressure.

A few years later, Ayman Nour emerged as a smart young
liberal politician who could challenge Mubarak’s
long-lasting authoritarian rule. As soon as American think
tanks and policymakers started referring to Nour as a
possible alternative for Mubarak during Egypt’s “democracy
spring” in 2005, the regime and its media outlets started
defaming Nour as a traitor. A few months later, and right
after the presidential “democracy spring” was over, the
same judge who sent Ibrahim to prison sentenced Nour to
five years in prison over a fabricated forgery case.

Even the Kefaya (”Enough!”) movement was portrayed by the
regime as an American invention. President Mubarak said in
an interview with the state-owned Al Ahram newspaper that
he is fully aware of the “secret relations Kefaya and the
Muslim Brotherhood have with the United States.” Although
none of this is true and Kefaya and the Muslim Brotherhood
are not engaged in any official talks with the US,
Mubarak’s statements were meant to defame its main
opposition groups at the time.

A few months ago when Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc
chairman, Saad Al Katatny, met with House majority leader,
Rep. Steny Hoyer, a spokesman representing the Egyptian
regime openly criticized the meeting and defamed the Muslim
Brotherhood again as traitors. The accusation overlooked
the fact that the meeting took place in the presence of
parliament speaker, Fathi Sorour, who had invited al
Katatny in the first place.

It is not surprising that this public meeting received more
attention from official media than Gamal Mubarak’s visit to
the United States or his meeting with President Bush, both
of which were veiled in secrecy. Clearly, the Egyptian
regime’s intent is that opposition groups should have no
contacts, dialogue or any sort of relations with American
officials, as these will contribute to improved mutual
understanding.

This anti-American sentiment, used by Mubarak’s regime as a
tool for survival, increases hostility towards America in
the Egyptian street. Not only do Egyptian people feel the
US is pursuing an unjust foreign policy in the region and
backing their authoritarian regime, but they can also see
that it is undermining the nation through intensifying
political chaos, through supporting and empowering
opposition groups and directing them against Egyptian
national interests.

In the era of “neo-terrorism,” or micro-terrorist groups,
this increasing hostility only means a threat to American
national security. With the rapid boom in technology and
communication, it takes no more than a connection to the
Internet and a few dollars to develop a bomb and threaten
the security and lives of innocents anywhere. Therefore,
relying on the strong relations with Egypt’s dictator as a
substitute for building bridges of understanding with the
Egyptian people is a strategic mistake.

The current and next American administrations have one of
two possible alternatives. The first is to continue
supporting a regime that complies with all their demands
yet spreads embedded anti-Americanism on the domestic
level, and suffer the possible consequences of that, which
will be devastating to everyone. The second alternative is
to support real democracy in Egypt, and realize that the
outcome would be a government that would not necessarily
serve America’s short term interests in the region. The
outcome will be a government that pursues Egypt’s
interests, and manifests the people’s will, yet does not
fuel widespread inherent hostility towards the United
States.

Ibrahim El Houdaiby is a board member of Ikhwan Web,
The Muslim Brotherhood (Ikwan) Official English Website.

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