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Why Obama's position on Egypt's Mubarak was too little, too late

The Obama administration's delayed public call for an 'orderly transition of power' followed days of equivocating that hurt US standing in the region. The White House must now take stock of its failed foreign policy so as not to further jeopardize its role in the new Egypt.

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Egypt protests: people to watch

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Since Mubarak has crushed political dissidents who attempted to oppose him through legitimate channels, this kind of decentralized uprising also makes perfect sense. The State of Emergency that has existed since 1981 when Mubarak instated it, allows the government to detain people indefinitely and without due process if they are deemed a threat to the security of the state. Reports of torture are common and well documented by international human rights groups. Considering this history, this spontaneous revolt via Facebook and Twitter is the only kind of wily, back-door operation that could have succeeded.

Threat of Islamist takeover?

We have also heard the specter of Islamist takeover raised in favor of maintaining Mubarak, if even for the short-term. The threat of Islamists has offered carte blanche for Middle Eastern leaders to use as an excuse for shady detainments and extraordinary renditions, all with the United States’ effective or explicit blessing. Assertions of an Islamist boogeyman, which call up images of the Iranian revolution and ayatollahs standing in the wings waiting to execute iron-fisted sharia law, play well on American fears.

Any friendly dictatorship, or so the argument goes, is better than an Islamist one. Islamist threats lend themselves to army coups, civil wars, repression, and instability (we need only to look at Algeria in 1992 and the Palestinian Territories in 2006) and not, as we might hope, democracy.

A complicated history

Complicating the US stance on Mubarak has been its own role in maintaining his regime for so long. Egypt is one of the highest recipients of US aid in the world. The tidy $1.3 billion annually offered in military aid is largely dedicated to domestic security. Economic aid, on the other hand, often ends up with influential financiers, whose family-owned corporations produce goods that the majority of the population cannot afford. In Cairo over the past two decades, IMF funds sparked a building boom, where developers snagged subsidized public land and built gated communities, glittering shopping malls, and high-rise apartment complexes, many reserved for the elite.


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