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February 10, 2011

Mubarak is out, no thanks to the U.S.

The Canadian Charger

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After years of lamenting the lack of democracy in the Arab world, the U.S. has met the Egyptian pro-democracy revolution with fear and trepidation. Indeed it was doing everything it can to stop it.

The U.S. foreign policy has depended on regional alliances which have provided the country with strategic depth since 1980.

Without Egypt, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse.

Israel's increasing isolation in the region, coupled with a weakening United States, will force the government to court new potential allies.

Recognizing his increasingly tenuous position in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his officials were, from the beginning, urging Western politicians to stop criticizing Mubarak, and raising fears of an Iranian style revolution.

“If, the day after elections [in Egypt], we have an extremist religious dictatorship, what good are democratic elections?” Shimon Peres asked, while Moshe Arens, the former defence minister, wondered in Haaretz whether Israel could make peace only with dictators like Mubarak.

As one Israeli commentator wrote in Yediot Ahronot, “Israel has been ‘overtaken by fear: the fear of democracy. Not here, in neighbouring countries.”

Meanwhile, after having lost allies Turkey and Lebanon, and struggling with an uneasy alliance with Jordan and the Gulf countries, American also has reason to fear democracy in the Middle East. 

People across the Arab world seek not only an end to corruption and repression and better lives, but an end to humiliation: They see their governments as being impotent, merely agents of the U.S. - Zionist alliance.

A democratic government in Egypt would change this because it would have to take the wishes of the people into account.

It could end the blockade of Gaza and threaten to curtail the use of, or stop the United States from using the Suez Canal, until  it takes a more balanced approach to issues in the region.

Because Obama couldn’t very well come out against the protesters: they embodied the values which, in his Cairo speech, he claimed the United States would always support,  he employed his all-too-common empty rhetoric about human rights and democracy, while working behind the scenes to ensure that Egypt's military will continue to call the shots in Egypt, post-Mubarak.

He has made it clear to military leaders that as long as the Egyptian economy remains open to multinationals, US warships are allowed passage through the Suez Canal, and peace is maintained with Israel – including tightening the siege of Gaza -  American military aid will continue to flow, at a rate of $1.3 billion a year.

As part of a soft coup strategy, the Obama administration is calling for a “managed” transition to “democracy” overseen by Mubarak confidant  and interim vice president Omar Suleiman, former head of the hated central intelligence service.

Because the US administration has shared interests with Israel – that no amount of “people power” can be allowed to interfere with - Washington sent Frank Wisner, former Egyptian ambassador and currently a lobbyist for the Egyptian military in Washington, to Cairo to speak to Egyptian officials about a transition.

Ensuring that Egypt continues to work closely with Israel on the Gaza blockade, intelligence-gathering and stirring up tensions between Fatah and Hamas, are issue high on the agenda – not the demands of the protesters for human rights and democracy.

It's telling that in his first meeting with opposition figures, Suleiman included the Muslim Brotherhood – whom he railed against in Wikileaks cables – yet he excluded the internationally best known opposition leader Mohamed Elbaradei, who has been widely criticized by the Israeli lobby in Washington for denouncing the Gaza blockade as “a brand of shame on the forehead of every Arab, every Egyptian and every human being.”

After meeting with opposition leaders, Suleiman issued a statement saying they had reached  a consensus about the path to reform; but  the points were  mostly the same as Mubarak outlined in his speech: Freedom of the press and rolling back police powers were promised, but only when the security situation “improved.”

In recent days, it's becoming more apparent that the Egyptian military intends to stay by winning a war of attrition, using brutal repression against the demonstrators, with the support of its western backers.

Along with the more high profile western journalists, the regime is jailing opposition figures and human rights activists and their lawyers. The high profile westerners are soon released; the Egyptians are not.

He said demonstrators must go home or face the consequences – quite likely the same consequences they've faced for years under the Mubarak regime.

Meanwhile, recently released Wikileaks cables show that Suleiman has been in daily contact with Israeli Defence officials for many years. 

In one cable,  U.S. diplomat Luis Moreno, wrote that although he deferred to the Embassy in Cairo for Egyptian succession scenario analysis, “there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Suleiman.”

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