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June 20, 2005


Nur al-Cubicle

This reminds me of Condi's trip to Europe in February: "we know you are talking about us and we want to be part of that dialog". Eugenio Scalfari, Editor-in-Chief of La Repubblica, summed up her trip as an imperial "Mission of Salvation":

In her contacts with the European allies, the new Secretary of State eloquently and succinctly defined the strategy guiding the second Bush administration: The United States and the West must unite to spread the ideals of freedom and democratic institutions throughout the world. Assistance must be offered to bring down intolerant and tyrannical states. In Rice’s words, "We are certain that our European allies, with their diplomatic, political and cultural experience, will fully join us in this mission, simultaneously incorporates Western values and concerns for its security".

[However, the war on Iraq resulted in placing] the Europeans before a fait accompli in order to persevere with missionary intentions--a pathetic ploy which will hopelessly delay any chance at healing the Iraqi wound.

The question is, what precisely has Dick Cheney said or done recently? Because that's where the power and intentions lie.

Nur al-Cubicle

And yeah, Baheyya would smoke Condi in a debate.

Abu Tabakh

I think we should temper the Baheyya worship. Her critique is elegant and penetrating, but her policy-prescriptions lack imagination. Her three top suggestions for the United States:

1. Stop public diplomacy.
2. Make the Israelis cede to all Arab demands.
3. Get out of the Middle East.

These recommendations so pedestrian it is startling for someone with Baheyya's obvious intellectual wattage.


Abu T,

I think you're missing her point, though. She's not actually offering policy prescriptions for America: she's saying that Egyptian reform is Egyptian business, Arab reform is Arab business, and neither need nor want Americans coming in to design them an "America-friendly" democracy.

Sure, she may want the US to change its Israeli policy, etc, but that's not really the point (other than to the extent that it makes America non-credible when it says nice things). She's not an American and isn't telling America what to do... and she wants America to return the favor.

Whether that's a viable route to getting the kind of reform she wants is another questions, but I don't think we should confuse an Egyptian speaking frankly about how she feels about America and Egyptian politics with policy advice for Washington.


Abu Tabakh, if I may, it seems that you're making a mistake similar to that which American policy makers and observers have long made, namely: when hearing someone from the Arab world make arguments that are critical or sceptical about the American role, to reduce what they are saying to pure negativism or assume that they are being unreasonable in their demands, and therefore are not "serious" and can be dismissed.

The Egyptian opposition political debate cannot be dismissed as purely negative or anti-American, in fact there are a lot of good ideas there, as chez Baheyya. Egyptians do offer constructive suggestions for what America could do better in their country: pressure for democratic reform and withdrawal of support for authoritarianism being one, more frankness about the need for partnership and willingness to accept messiness or instability (rather than pretending the US has never made mistakes, or doesn't have strategic interests behind its policies in the Middle East) being another. I think Condi Rice seems to have listened, though whether the administration will be willing to risk its stable partner in Mubarak when push comes to shove is another question.

And even if you don't see good policy suggestions (which I don't expect from bloggers anyway!), it is still useful to see how Egyptians are reacting to US policy initiatives, isn't it? The opinions of the likes of Baheyya are a pointer to how US-Egypt relations could be when Egypt is a democracy - it's going to happen, it has to happen, and public opinion is going to matter then, it can't be wished away or dismissed.


P.S. I do see one powerful policy prescription in Baheyya's latest essay, as a matter of fact: if you're going to have democracy, you can't guarantee that people convenient to the US are going to be voted to power. You can't pick and choose which political parties can be allowed to contest. Democracy is inherently uncertain.

Perhaps the US shouldn't be so afraid of the Islamists. Honestly, they aren't that different from the Christian Right in their ideas, and democracy has a way of forcing pragmatism and compromise.


Wise words are yours in the Foreign Affairs article. I tried the link, but it doesn't lead to the entire piece. I'd love to read it.

Please direct me so that I may.

Thank you AA,


AA says,

I think you're missing her point, though. She's not actually offering policy prescriptions for America: she's saying that Egyptian reform is Egyptian business, Arab reform is Arab business, and neither need nor want Americans coming in to design them an "America-friendly" democracy.

And it's such an important point. It would behoove the policy pushers to actually let this point sink into and then become the center of gravity behind discussions of how to empower Arabs to set out on their own unique path of reform...rather than having a path enforced upon one, which is the standard at the moment.

Also, saving-face is important in our culture. If you patronize (even without the intention of doing so), it can only lead to more difficulties down the line.

And AA, your words in the FA piece complement Baheyya's in that you express these points quite clearly while observing the stagnation and frustration many opposition members are faced with when up against American support for authoritarianism.

If only more white men could relate to people like Baheyya and I that desperately crave for true reform instigated by true Arab patriots, instead of by some white men.

You've succeeded yet again in pulling one of my little heart-strings. What a wholesome post! Well executed!


Abu Tabakh

I seemed to have struck a nerve. I appreciate the point that Baheyya is saying that Egyptian reform is Egypt's business etc. etc. Yet, at the same time, her analysis is laced with suggestions about Washington should and should not do. This is important as SP suggests, but if Baheyya is going to offer up policy prescriptuions, implicit or otherwise, she should at least have a realistic view of American foreign policy.


I agree with abu Tabakh, Baheyya and the Aardvack speak with forked tongue demanding at once, a hands off neutral policy for the US in the region respecting local sensibilities etc.. and at the same time putting forth a laundry list of actions that the US should/should not do. And by the way the difference between Baheyya and Condi, is one is a pundit and the other's words has real consequences so comparing the two is ridiculous. I can come up with a great solution to sectarinism in lebanon, but it means jack! When you have influence and responsibility things are tougher in the real world


Perhaps the trouble is that we all tend to be "realistic" about our own country's foreign policy, take its compulsions for granted, understand the nationalist sentiments of our own publics, and yet fail to see, or give credibility to, those of others...

I personally don't believe that one has to be ready to fill the shoes of a US diplomat in order to offer legitimate suggestions for US diplomacy. Of course Rice has her compulsions, but if nobody questions these, or the shibboleths of US foreign policy (and it seems this is slow to happen from within, given repeated references to being "realistic" about the US's strategic interests), is anything ever going to change?

the aardvark

What I meant by juxtaposing the two was less a grand vision of what America should or shouldn't do, but a more narrow question about what we mean by "democracy." My point was not to say that Baheyya's great and Rice is stupid. My point is that Rice sounds more like Baheyya than might first be evident, but then to ask how far this really goes.

One version of this is the generic neo-con version: you get this magic thing called "democracy", and suddenly the economy works and the state recedes and everyone loves America and Israel, and American foreign policy problems become far more tractable.

Another is Baheyya's, if I may put words in her mouth: democracy is just another institutional form within which messy, contentious, often nasty politics plays out. She and others want that form because it has the best chance of giving ordinary and elite (Egyptians, Arabs) a say in things, evens the field a bit, but it won't in and of itself be a magic solution to anything. Here's the key: she could care less whether it makes American foreign policy more tractable, and probably expects that the opposite would be true - a more democratic Egypt/Arab world would give greater voice to people such as herself, who are far less forthcoming to American goals than are the existing Arab regimes.

And then there's Condi... who is not doing a bad job of talking the second formula, but who many suspect is still pushing the first. There's no problem with that, of course: she's an American diplomat, and she is pushing American foreign policy interests. But when push comes to shove, will she (and America) support a messy and unruly but more democratic Arab politics, as Rice sometimes says? Or will she/it support such democracy only to the point that it makes American policy objectives more tractable?

the aardvark


Foreign Affairs used to have the full text of my article free on-line, but that is mysteriously no longer the case...

... try this link instead:



the existing arab regimes are the 800 pound gorillas on the back of US policy. Any democratic reform will be positive, because even people who despise the US and Israel, will still be pragmatic as they rule on behest of their populace. What is a democratic egypt going to do differently? attack Israel, and get smashed? put sanctions on US products? refuse the annual aid? No they will have to pursue similar policies with hopefully a more reformist economic policy, but at least with a degree of legitimacy. There are more than enough internal issues to be resolved in Egypt, that I don't see any democratic egyptian government picking unnecessary fights with the US. In short the goals are in perfect agreement. whatever the outcome will be good for the US, even anti US leaders will have to accept reality, have to encourage foreign investment, seek markets for their products etc... in other words make deals with the US. Of course the problem is many people in the region have no real clue what US goals are. In a nutshell, secure flow of oil, israeli security, and no exporting of terrorism. I don't see a democratic egypt being a negative on any of those points. it would be great to have an egyptian president be like Chirac, yapping away, with big rhetoric with rhetorical yapps coming back from the US side, while there is huge trade and interdependence between the two populaces and nothing really changes in the relationship


I hear ya AA. I loved the juxtaposition. I didn't mean to say you were even complementing her, I guess. I just meant to say that it's nice that you recognize the Arab perspective so well, while so many others still continue to act as though it's NOT the deciding factor in what we hope will be real Arab democracy. And of course, she sounds somewhat like Baheyya (and that's what suprised me so much)...but we'll remain suspicious of her intentions until such grand support for the likes of Mubarak are scaled back.

In fact, as long as denial remains the general mode in the White House with regard to certain issues like Abu Ghraib, there will continue to be large-scale doubt as to the sincerity of America regardless of their diplo-semantic proficiency in spreading the message in the second formula.

But I guess we should remember these are people who are fighting for their political life.

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