Flashback to Birmingham!

January 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm (By Amba)

But this is Cairo.

More about the Egyptian protests, including the immensely touching role of women.

This is one of those stirring, spirit-rousing moments, like 1956 and 1968 and 1989, and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.  Let’s hope and pray it doesn’t meet the fate of Iran’s green one.  But even when such surges are beaten back, as at Tiananmen, they are not broken.

More.  I wonder why Secretary Clinton is speaking out forcefully in support of the rights of Egypt’s protesters, as no one in the Obama administration did for the Iranians.  Well, clearly the difference is strategic.  But it also underscored, rather than helping to undermine, the Iranian regime’s power, no?  I am notoriously naïve about these things, please enlighten me.


  1. Callimachus said,

    It looks hypocritical, but probably there are enough differences in the two situations to justify the different response.

    In Egypt, when the people in the streets confront the government, the big question that hangs in the air is, will the Americans back the government? As I’m reading the newswire right now, the whole White House is not only not backing the government, it’s morally supporting the people in the streets.

    [Whether the White House really thinks it wants this particular revolution at this particular time, or is just pretending to support what it knows it has no will or power to halt, is another issue.]

    In Iran, the contempt of the Americans could do nothing to further embarrass the government, but a too enthusiastic backing from the U.S. could have compromised the opposition by playing into the propaganda line that the protests were CIA/Mossad-backed and not indigenous.

  2. Maxwell James said,

    I don’t think there’s any way for us to know that yet (although maybe there will be soon, thanks to Wikileaks!). If Obama had spoken out more quickly and forcefully in support of the Iranian protesters, and they were crushed, his critics would have just made the opposite allegation.

    In any case, I would describe the Administration’s response to the Egyptian protests as pretty muddled thus far, given Biden’s comments. Not that I blame them really – Egypt is an ally after all, one of the few states not constantly at odds with Israel in the region. Let’s not forget that Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar El Sadat, had a key role in the Egypt-Israel peace treaty – was murdered by a fanatic with support from Omar Abdel-Rahman.

    Which is all a way of saying: while I hope for the best, there’s no way of knowing how this will all play out.

  3. amba12 said,

    Good points all around, so far. It’s so complex that there’s probably room for more.

  4. wj said,

    Ignoring Biden, the US response looks to be fairly supportive.

    In particular, I note the recently reported official comment that the US’s $1 billion plus in annual military aid might be at risk, depending on how the Egyptian army reacts. Combined with the fact that the protesters were already cheering army units when they showed up, I’m guessing that may tip the army towards supporting replacing the government. And, given the wariness of people in the middle East (and elsewhere) to being characterized as an “American puppet,” that is probably the best kind of support we could give.

  5. amba12 said,

    Icepick wrote to me, though, that the winner is likely to be the Muslim Brotherhood — the largest opposition group. If so, they’ll be beating the demonstrating women instead of molesting them.

  6. david said,

    Definitely an opportunity, not only for the forces of openness and democracy but for the Muslim Brotherhood.

  7. Callimachus said,

    I have little doubt that the result of this current development, at least in the short term, would be an Islamic Republic of Egypt. Ditto Tunisia, Yemen, possibly more. They will either learn to govern sanely or flame out and be overthrown in their turn.

    What we’re really doing here I think is managing the continuing post-Cold War wind-down. The bipolar Cold War political maps in just two colors were highly artificial, and America no longer can afford, morally or materially, to prop up bastards who are on our side.

    Just like a lot of tin-horn marxists get to romp and rant in Latin American halls of power who never would have lasted 15 minutes in a Cold War climate. Just like Eastern European minorities and Iraqi Muslims turn knives on one another. Pressures kept under tight lids for a lifetime will bubble over.

    It’s messy, but it could be worse. It will be part of our mission. It’s just possible that historians way down the line will read the foreign policies of the GWB and Obama administrations as a continuous, deliberate process of managing this transition. And they just might be right, in their way. It could become one of our best moments, our last one as a hegemon. It returns us more to our ideological national roots.

    But what’s sad to me, and seems increasingly likely, is that those future history books will date the decline of America from 9/11/01. Oh it won’t be explicit; they’ll know and acknowledge that there was rot for a long time before and glorious things done afterward.

    But, at least at this point, almost 10 years later, it looks to me like the future history books soon will contain lines like, “The decline of America as a global power was heralded by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden, the perpetrator, never was caught, and soon the country marched off into unwinnable wars and fell into financial disarray” etc.

    Perhaps the Chinese, when they come to dominate, will remember our generosity at the time of their rise, and will write histories that merely say we passed our peak because, like all ideas and empires, our time had passed. Rather than blame it on any one event or fatal flaw. Perhaps. What’s sad is that so much is going to go down with us. Universal rights of man? Pursuit of happiness? The whole Western Civilization grope toward the greatest possible individual liberty? Who will pick up that torch?

  8. amba12 said,

    Yes, exactly.

    Was just talking with a friend who spends a good bit of time in Vietnam. They still hate the French, he says; oddly, they get along pretty well with the Americans. That spoke volumes to me about who we are, that we have a way of becoming friends with our former enemies.

  9. mockturtle said,

    I agree, Annie. My brother, who is a Vietnam vet, has been back to ‘Nam three times as a civilian and has made lifelong friendships there even though he views the war with horror and disgust. It may be worth noting that most Vietnamese do not view the war as negatively as we do.

    There was a discussion on Lehrer Newshour this evening about Egypt and the consensus seemed to be that as the army goes, so goes the Egyptian government. The panel seemed supportive of the protesters; Obama is critical of their ‘violence’. IMHO, if the army senses Mubarak weakening, they will turn.

  10. wj said,

    I have a couple of reservations about icepick’s assessment. Or at least with its implications.

    First, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has evolved from what it was a few decades ago. There is a reason it is subject to bin Ladin’s denunciations, and it is simply this: the Brotherhood is a very diverse group, mostly far more moderate than their image in the West would suggest. So even if they become a major part of the next government, it may not end up looking quite like some expect.

    Second, the people in Egypt have before them the example of Iran. Which will make it less likely that anyone trying to convert this revolution into a theocracy is going to get resisted earlier and more fiercely than the Imams did. And likely more successfully.

    The new Egyptian government may take some positions that the US is not enthused about. But then, which of our allies does not do that on occasion? And any new government is going to have plenty to do restructuring Egypt, without having resources to waste on avoidable hassles with the rest of the world.

  11. mockturtle said,

    Topple a dictatorship, usher in a theocracy. The Muslim Brotherhood is all about theocracy.

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