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June 20, 2005



Condi seems to have walked a fine line in Egypt. On the one hand, I was glad to see her talk about how concern with stability above all had to be replaced with a concern for democracy, and acknowledge some of the violations of the Egyptian regime, as in this quote from Reuters: "We are all concerned for the future of Egypt's reforms when peaceful supporters of democracy -- men and women -- are not free from violence. The day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees, and when the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice." But then she turns around and says the US refuses to engage with the MBs because Egypt has its laws and we respect them. What the *&&%*$?

Nur al-Cubicle

re: SP's comment above. I have a bad feeling that the democracy talk from Rice is a cover for three aims: 1) permanent sidelining of religious organizations like the MB (even though they play a very big social role and in fact cannot be sidelined), 2)the evangelism of what Chirac calls "extreme Anglo-Saxon neoliberal policies" (end to state subsidies in health, industry, and media & communications sectors, etc. and elimination of leftist political parties) and 3)acquiescence to US hegemony in a client-patron arrangement.

The Administration does not have the depth of area expertise to make much headway and as a fracophone, hispanophone and italophone, may I say that the arrogance that the US alone may foster a Western-style democracy (there's a big democratic West out there) is of course self-serving. The administration seems disinclined to actually "do the right thing" (and we probably all share the notion what that might be) in any case.

"There is no plan" says Condi, hoping that strains of celestial music touching the ears of the autocrats will sway them--and "poof", Egyptian transparency! It takes a plan, dear Condi, not wishful thinking, pearls and a microphone.


Once again one cannot please everyone. If Rice had articulated a plan it would have been taken as cultural imperialism, and meddling in the internal affairs of another country. nur al cubicle, coming form lebanon, if one is to wait for the french or any other european nation to actively promote democracy in the ME and call out some of these regimes, one will be waiting for a long time indeed. i would love it if the Euros stepped up but Chirac is consumed with preserving his agricultural subsidies and fighting les anglo-saxons. On issues of democracy, the silence is deafening from Europe. Algeria, nyet, Tunisia, nyet, Morocco, nyet, Egypt, nada, and the list goes on. If the US said nothing, nothing would be said.


I see hummbumm's point about not being able to please everyone and I daresay the Bushies would have got flak if they had presented a plan...still, the important point is that the US *is* already involved in Egyptian politics thanks to that $2 bill. a year, and they *could* use that power for good rather than evil. I'm with NC on the lack of area knowledge but I don't think it takes a great deal of Arabic to recognize a rigged election when you see one, or the beating up and arrest of political opponents. The US could have used its leverage to do something about that (for all we know, Condi did that behind the scenes). Perhaps the intricacies of diplomacy don't allow actual plain talk, in spite of the machismo about bloody noses, but I do feel frustrated at the way the US seems to be supporting the status quo even as it makes noises about bold changes in foreign policy. It's mushy Rice, rather than good or bad (sorry couldn't resist ;)

Nur al-Cubicle

Perhaps the intricacies of diplomacy don't allow actual plain talk

(!) We've heard and continue to hear plenty of Bush administration plain talk. For example, yesterday Rice said the US would never talk to Hamas. Maybe that's so, but couldn't she have left it vague until Abbas reenergizes Fatah? Lebanon has not even seated it new government, and Washington wants Hezbollah disarmed yesterday. Now today Condi says the US will never talk to the MB. These actors are powerful and they have to be dealt with--in dialog. Any effort towards more democratization necessarily implies their inclusion in the political process, hoping in a transformation or at least an understanding. Only Condi has the luxury of declaring them non-people, then walking away.


Not talking to inconvenient people far away (or, in some cases, very close by) is not unique to US policy towards Arabs or even the Middle East, however.

The clerics have been ruling Iran for nearly three decades now, but US still refuses to talk to the Iranians directly.

Fidel Castro has been in power for nearly half a century in Havana, and US doesn't talk to his government directly.

Hugo Chavez, for all his problems, has been elected twice as a democratically elected leader of Venezuela and US doesn't talk to him directly either, more or less.

None of these countries are particularly consequential for US--for all the talk about political and economic reforms, there aren't two cents for the United States undertaking whatever "reforms" there might be, and in fact, the downside is often unpalatable.


It's clear the Bushies have their own dogmatisms about who they will and won't talk to, but what makes me wonder in the case of the MBs is that a month ago Egyptian newspapers had several stories suggesting that the US administration had reached out to the MBs and was trying to set up talks with them. There was talk about how the US had finally accepted the need to work with Islamist parties after their experience in Iraq. Of course the MBs denied any US contact vehemently (as did Ayman Nour). But that made me wonder if in spite of the public "we don't negotiate with turrrsts and people preaching hate" (the MBs being so much more hate-filled than Jerry Falwell, of course) stance, they *were* actually beginning to take the MBs seriously.

Nur al-Cubicle

Here's some Arab POV as reported by AFP:

Monday’s call for democracy in the Middle East by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was perceived by Arab democracy activists and analysts as a public relations initiative meant to camouflage US support for the régimes in place. In a speech in Cairo, Condoleezza Rice made a self-criticism of the policies of her country in the region. The United States, for 60 years, sought stability at the expense of a democratic Middle East and we got neither stability nor democracy; but today we are following a different course.

These words did not convince Arab reformers. According to them, the reality of US policies in the Palestinian territories, in Iraq, in its continued backing of authoritarian Arab régimes and in its selective support of opposition figures contradict what was said. Despite the rhetoric of the Bush Administration on democracy, Washington is not ready to relinquish its support of authoritarian Arab regimes with which it has a strategic relationship and which serve its interests in the region, said Hussein Abdel Razek, Secretary-General of the Egyptian political party Tagammoua (leftist opposition). Rice’s plea for democracy was aimed at burnishing Washington’s brand name in the region and at tamping down anti-American sentiment, said Razek. Washington demands some cosmetic democratic changes but it won’t go as far as backing substantial reforms leading towards true democrarcy based on power-sharing, which may bring to power forces hostile to its policies in the region, Razek continued.

For the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, Rice’s rhetoric on democracy is part of a public relations campaign. On the ground, authoritarian regimes continue to oppress their own people. We didn’t heard a word from American officials after the recent arrest of 2,000 people [Muslim Brotherhood militants] in Egypt. The Americans seem to have reached an understanding with the régime. They are going to close their eyes to their practices in order to preserve their strategic interests because they know full well than there will be no real democratic change in Egypt, Futuh added.

With Rice’s tour through the region, we discovered that Washington will continue to deal with the regimes in place, says Lebanese analyst Satea Nur Eddin, before adding: I do not believe that she was sincere in her criticism of her country’s policies.

A founder of the Egyptian movement fighting for change, Kefaya (Enough !), Mohamed al-Sayyed Saïd, was more nuanced in his observation. The Americans seem to have adopted a middle-of-the-road approach. They have decided to continue to support authoritarian Arab regimes, whom they consider friends, in the short term but the want to keep the door open for reforms in the long term.

There were several strong points in Rice’s speech but there were also weak points and contradictions, says an al-Ahram Reserch Center analyst, underscoring that Rice seemed oblivious to the fact that democracy is not compatible with the continuing occupation in Iraq and in Palestine. Her speech did not reflect a desire to defend militant reformers oppressed inside their own country. Quite the opposite. The Americans are very selective on this score. Mrs. Rice had cancelled her planned March visit to Egypt to protest the arrest of liberal opposition leader Ayman Nur, head of the al-Ghad Party.


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