Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gamal Mubarak on sale in Washington, D.C. (II)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


In my last column, I started to discuss Egypt's aging leader Hosni Mubarak's and his son and likely successor, Gamal Mubarak's, visit to Washington. It must be noted that Hosni Mubarak's visit to the White House was originally planned in May; and at that time, like many world leaders who visit Washington, The prestigious Blair House was prepared for Mr. Mubarak. However, this time around, it would seem the intense pressure by human rights and democracy advocates was successful enough to land Mubarak and his entourage at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown.

Egyptian Americans and human rights workers were enraged by President Obama's decision to host the Egyptian leader for a number of reasons. According to human rights advocacy group, Amnesty International, there are about 18,000 political dissidents currently in Egyptian jails. The reports also revealed that since 2007, over 30 Egyptians were killed while in the custody of Egyptian police as a result of torture. The widespread use of torture by Egyptian police became so prevalent in 2007, disturbing videos of tortured women and sodomized men began to pick up heavy viewership on the popular video uploading website.

The New Media has contributed immensely to the uptick opponents of the National Movement against the Mubarak regime. The strikes last year, which later amounted to the protests of April 6, witnessed the bloodiest crackdown against the opposition in years. Since Mubarak's notorious state of emergency laws prohibit any form of protest, a basic element paramount in any functional democracy, the Egyptian police dispersed the crowds by all means. However, for the Egyptian government, subduing the Egyptian opposition is much harder on the digital front lines where the bloggesphere world has exploded, exposing the rampant corruption, torture and criminal misconduct of the Egyptian judicial system. In order to pry intensely into the daily lives of average computer savvy Egyptians, Egypt's Ministry of Intelligence receives the largest amount of funding from the government and intricately wired into the latest computer technology.

Egypt is also the second largest receiver of US funds. But, interestingly, in Obama's first budget request for Fiscal Year 2010, aid to Arab civil society groups is dramatically down. This left the Egyptian rights groups in awe. Currently they are looking into other financing means since the U.S. government reserves its funding for Egypt's military purposes.

According to the July 2009 report of the Project on Middle East Democracy, a Washington-based research center, titled “The Federal Budget and Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2010,” the Obama administration reduced its bilateral foreign assistance support for civil society in the Arab world, while adding funds to State Department tools specifically designed for such work. "Overall bilateral democracy and governance aid to key Arab allies Egypt and Jordan is cut by more than 40 percent, with even sharper cuts to funding allocated for civil society organizations."

Human rights advocate groups in Washington sent several letters to the State Department and to the White House to focus especially on three critical matters when talking to Hosni Mubarak. The first was to cajole Mubarak to conduct presidential and parliamentary elections (in 2011 and 2010, respectively) under international and independent Egyptian supervision with judicial oversight. The second was to press Mubarak to amend Article 76 of the Egyptian Constitution, which was adopted in 2005, and which legitimizes the ruling party's full control of who runs for President. According to the experts, this amendment makes it nearly impossible for anyone to run for president due to multiple onerous requirements. And the last one was to urge Mubarak to take action on religious freedom.

Obama's Cairo speech resonated greatly across the Muslim world. This positive reflection was not because Obama quoted Koran as 'holy' or his family ties with Islam. Obama's rhetoric has resonated in the Muslim world owing to its bluntness, even if the speech contained many parts that the Muslim peoples disagreed with. During that speech, Obama defended the 9/11 policies, argued for the invasion of Afghanistan, and exclaimed the “unbreakable” ties with Israel. Though his very brusque rhetoric still gained many hearts and minds as it created the impression that Obama means what he says, and he says what his administration thinks. Baring in mind of course, his message as an important bridge for Muslims in the Middle East, who have been, on many occasions, told one thing in the past, but have seen other things done.

Now Obama seems to be getting caught in the same trap. Obama speaks for the freedom of the people, transparency of governments or more democracy and human rights for Muslim nations, yet he meets with the very rulers who have done the opposite; and this double play is also noted in Arab streets. Ms. Newton argues that to reach his top foreign agenda item, Obama puts the 83 million Egyptian people’s quest for democracy and basic human rights on the back burner, "It's simply political," Newton cries. The Obama team calculates that if they cannot get a breakthrough in coming months, with the looming midterm election next year, it will be even harder to pressure both Israelis and Palestinians to commit to the process and then he will be seen as a failed president in foreign affairs. And to prevent this from happening, Obama takes a chance on the democracy deficit in Egypt to placate to a ruler whose country remains key in the Palestine/Israeli quagmire. In two years, regardless of who attempts to run against father Mubarak's successor Gamal, if the U.S. government does not demand their client state implement a more democratic system, the Egyptian people will remain under the heavy hand of fear.

Obama seems to put all his eggs in one basket for an Israeli-Palestine peace breakthrough, Newton claims. The Muslim world hailed him for his courage to pressure Netanyahu, for his unyielding support for the two-state solution and sincere efforts to reach a peace deal. However, trying to reach that deal at the expense of the Egyptian people's current misery under Hosni Mubarak, the future under Gamal Mubarak doesn't look right and just. All the goodwill he has built with his bluntness and apparent sincerity is now at great risk of forgetting the principles of his straight-talking fashion in Cairo. Instead, questions arise as to whether Obama wants to realize this peace process for his own political agenda, to get re-elected in the next elections.

The impressions of a photo-opt of Obama with Hosni Mubarak does not give much hope for the future of the Egyptian people.

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