Friday, January 28, 2011

The Egyptian Meltdown

The situation in Egypt is dire indeed. President Mubarak has just addressed the nation and pathetically tried to pretend that the protests are not over himself, but over his government, which he says he is ordering to step down. He then will establish a new government tomorrow.

But the problem is that Egyptian protests are directed at Mubarak in particular, more so than his government.

Protests slowed down during Mubarak's public address but even before he had finished they resumed as protesters realized it was all a charade.

Like every politician seeking power he invoked the poor and needy over and over in his address. He also claimed that all the protests are allowed because of the "reforms" that he established. So everything good came from him, everything bad came from his government, which he was not responsible for.

Mubarak has been in power, as a virtual dictator, since 1981. And he has been cemented in power by billions of dollars in direct aid from the United States. The US gives the Mubarak dictatorship about $1.5 billion per year, most of that in military aid.

This is precisely how US foreign policy encourages the Islamist fundamentalists. Our government, in our name, props up vicious, vile dictators who suppress their people. The only organized force of opposition is found within the mosques because all other forms of civil society are tightly controlled. Within the mosques the Islamists come to dominate as the strongest opponents of the dictatorship. And this forces moderates into an alliance with Islamists to overthrow the government.

We saw this with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the purported Shah of Iran. Pahlavi was a cruel dictator who used torture and terror to impose his will on the people of Iran. Civil society was suppresses and only the mosques were given some liberty. Ayatollah Khomeini was the leading voice of opposition to Pahlavi and when the people finally rose up and overthrew the government it was Khomeini who was able to sweep in and take power. And his anti-American tirades struck a cord with the population precisely because the United States, instead of siding with liberty and freedom, has been supporting the Shah and his military dictatorship.

Iran was one of the most modern Islamic nations at the time in terms of cultural values. There was no widespread support for the Ayatollah's Iranian version of the Moral Majority. What there was, however, was opposition to the Shah. And that is what Khomeini was able to use to take power and that what kick-started the modern Islamist fundamentalist movement that now poses a threat. Jonathan Kwitny once wrote a book, Endless Enemies, which looked at how American foreign policy seemed to create new enemies to combat. Each intervention creates the need for more interventions. And so it goes, endlessly.

This problem was well expressed by Spencer Day in his song Better Way:

Too many soldier marchin off to war
Too many nations tryin to settle a score
When every battle only leads to more
We gotta find a better way.

Of course, it is not just soldiers and battles. American foreign intervention is often done when the US channels billions of taxpayer's wealth to tyrannical dictators. American politicians believe it is their divine right to rule the world, passing laws that they they force weaker governments around the world of enforcing. Our government made US drug policies the policies of the world by pushing other governments into adopting them through a combinaiton of carrot and stick policies.

Just as politicians screw up everything they touch in America, they screw up everything they touch globally. We need non-intervention, not only abroad, but at home as well.

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