From social networking sites to radio stations, news programs to blogs, the sounds and images of protests in Egypt have been prominent and gripping. The message is clear: Egyptians want new leadership, and they want it now.
We believe it is the moral duty of the United States to support democracy wherever it is sought. And it especially should not be to supply the regime oppressing democracy with tear gas canisters that say “Made in the USA,” as is being done in Egypt. Our taxes are directly paying for a nation wanting democracy to be brutally repressed by its government.
The reasoning behind Egypt’s distaste with its government is sound: a suffering economy, rampant unemployment, lack of personal freedoms and a dictatorial reign that has lasted for more than 30 years have left citizens with a thirst for change and democracy.
What are less sound are the mixed messages that the United States has sent in response to the revolution that’s now underway.
On the one hand, President Obama made it a point to emphasize to the world in his State of the Union speech our country’s support of the revolt in Tunisia, saying “Let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.”
And yet the Obama administration’s response to the Egyptian revolution has not been so straightforward.
“This is not about taking sides,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in regard to the U.S.’s role in the struggle between protestors and the government. And President Obama (as of Friday, at least) has yet to use the D-word – democracy – to describe the situation in Egypt.
Vice President Joe Biden has also been quoted expressing conflicting views of Mubarak, concurrently stating that the “time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction of being more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there,” and also that he “would not refer to him as a dictator.”
We recognize that foreign policy isn’t always black and white. Egypt is the fourth largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $28 billion since 1975, and the Egyptian government under Mubarak has been a strategic puppet for U.S. interests in the region.
A remark made by George W. Bush in a 2003 speech seems to eerily describe the current conundrum:
“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe – because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”
At this pivotal moment in Egypt’s history, it is imperative that the United States issue clear and concrete steps in reducing aid to Egypt if Mubarak and his government fail to step down and hold free and fair elections.
We cannot stand idly by and knowingly support a regime under which praying protesters are shot in the streets by police officers whose salaries are partially paid for by the United States.
We suspect that Secretary of State Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration won’t be getting much sleep in the coming weeks.