RANCHO SANTA FE, CA., February 2, 2011 – In case you haven’t heard, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt hasn’t been having a good week and neither has his Prime Minister and cabinet … which aren’t around anymore. You see when you are what some claim to be a despotic leader, things like this can happen. Despotic Leadership 101 says the first thing to do is to try to settle down the masses with a show of force. Second: fire everyone in power except yourself; after all, you’re a despotic leader, so you have to remain in power. Third: promise meaningful reform (even if you don’t mean it). And finally: if the crowd is still outside your palace gates with their proverbial pitchforks and torches … and if you’re 82 years old … it may be time to “hang up the tarboosh” and call it a day. This is what President Mubarak is facing.
Across the pond, President Obama is struggling with yet another situation that just never arose during his extensive experience as a community organizer. On the one hand, we’ve been backing the Mubarak regime with money and diplomatic support for many years and claimed him as our ally. On the other, we’re supposed to be the bastion of freedom; something that hasn’t truly existed in Egypt since Emergency Law was declared. Under Emergency Law, Egypt’s Constitution is temporarily suspended and police power is greatly expanded (similar to martial Law). While this might make sense if it was done recently to quell the current turmoil in the streets, it actually began in 1967 and has been in effect ever since (other than during an 18-month period during which Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar El Sadat, was assassinated).
You’d think that Mubarak could have arrested the “state of emergency” during the 30 years he’s been in office. After all, 30 years is a long time to be in power … unless you compare it to our Congressmen and Senators. In that case, President Mubarak wouldn’t even make it into our All-Time Top 100, and among our current crew, Dingell, Inouye, Conyers, Rangel, Young (Bill), Cochran, Stark, Young (Don), Leahy, Baucus, Grassley, Harkin, Miller and Waxman would all beat Mubarak’s reign by at least six years. If Joe Biden hadn’t become Vice President and many of his other colleagues either died, retired, or been voted out of office this past year, the list would be considerably longer. Corruption can occur among those who hold political office for too long a period of time … present company of Congressmen and Senators excepted of course.
Corruption is rampant in Egypt. Transparency International tracks corruption among 178 different countries and assigns a Corruption Perceptions Index (or “CPI” – not to be confused with the Consumer Price Index) to those countries. In 2010, Egypt ranked 98th out of 178. To put that into perspective, the United States ranked 22nd (four places behind Qatar and two behind Chile) … and you know how corrupt things are in this country!
Then, there’s the whole torture “thing” under Emergency Law. Mubarak’s former Minister of the Interior, Habib al-Adly, apparently got a little zealous with the right to imprison individuals for any period of time (without any real cause) and torture them while they’re in custody. We get upset with a little waterboarding of terrorist suspects who are trying to kill hundreds or thousands of us at a time. Can you imagine how upset the Egyptians must be when they can be subjected to far worse forms of “enhanced interrogation techniques” because they may simply disagree with the government?
So, what should President Obama do? Should he cut off the $1.5 billion in financial aid that we deliver to Egypt every year? It’s not an easy decision. First, it could risk the relationship that our government has in place with Egypt … and we’re not exactly “flush” with allies in the Middle East. Secondly, much of that money is spent on military equipment. Oh sure, Egypt buys a lot of its military equipment from other countries, but it still creates jobs in the United States through what it purchases from us. Rumor has it that some of the protestors have been shot with American-made bullets. Let’s hear it for capitalism!
Perhaps the most difficult part of the decision resides with a $1.1 million investment that Egypt makes directly in U.S. firms each year. According to the Atlantic, Cairo pays lobbyists $1.1 million a year to “provide assistance and advice, as requested, to the Embassy in the task of securing and further enhancing the interests of Egypt in the United States in the political, economic, military and other fields.” If we withdraw financial support from Egypt, that lobbying initiative could go away. Besides, where would we spend the $1.5 billion we give Egypt if we didn’t spend it there? Poverty and illiteracy are both hovering around 15 percent in the United States, but we seem to be comfortable with those numbers.
Of course, we are cheering for the Egyptians on the side of freedom. Nancy Pelosi personally tweeted twice on the subject within the last few days, while John McCain asked, “What’s a ‘tweet?’” The former Speaker tweeted: “I support the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people & right to peacefully protest,” and earlier, “I’m inspired by people of Egypt seeking real democracy & join Sec. Clinton in support of orderly transition to fair elections.” Minority Leader Pelosi’s alignment with “democratic aspirations” is a given, and her support of “peaceful protests” heralds her belief in the First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Nancy’s encouragement of an “orderly transition to fair elections” is a responsible position as well; although, it might be complicated by the protestors’ rejection of Mubarak’s offer to surrender his position in September by not running for reelection.
However, the most poignant element of Pelosi’s tweets was when she typed, “I’m inspired by people of Egypt seeking real democracy …” This may be indicative of a fundamental shift in her political position. After all, it wasn’t too many months ago that she dismissed the Tea Party movement as “AstroTurf” rather than “grassroots” and likened its members to Nazis. Weren’t the Tea Party rallies really about returning the United States to the path of individual freedoms prescribed by the Constitution and its Amendments? The Tea Party protests would appear to be very similar to the protests in Egypt … except without the Molotov cocktails and vandalizing of people’s businesses and homes. Then again, Egyptian residents can’t vote against Nancy, so that may be the real difference.
Moving to the other side of the aisle, some Conservatives have accepted the premise that if the Mubarak regime falls, the dreaded Muslim Brotherhood might take over Egypt and create the second coming of Iran. After all, President Mubarak has been warning the American public about this for years. The only thing he has to gain from scaring us into believing that a radical Islam group might take over Egypt is the ongoing financial and diplomatic support of the United States. He’s a politician. Let’s just take him at his word!
The Muslim Brotherhood apparently wants to return Egypt to a non-secular state governed by Sharia law. The fact that only about one percent of Egypt’s population is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t get in the way of fear-mongering. If there was an open and fair election, Egyptian women alone would prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from ever gaining power. If you’re concerned about the likelihood of there ever being an “open and fair election” in Egypt, we could always send Jimmy Carter over there to audit the process. With any luck, he might stay.
In any event, we should all hope that this situation resolves itself quickly and peacefully. Whether President Mubarak steps down immediately or the protestors accept his offer to leave office in September, it’s disrupting the tourist business as it pertains to the Pyramids and Sphinx. As soon as everyone figures out that there’s money involved, they’ll probably be able to reach an agreement. In the interim, the crisis has encouraged hackers to create some interesting Internet workarounds and kept many a news crew gainfully employed. So, to President Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all the revolutionaries in the streets of Cairo’s Tahrir Square: thanks for the only true reality TV we see in the United States.
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.