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The Downfall of the Pharaoh

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia is inspiring mass protests throughout the Arab world. All eyes are currently on Egypt. The crystal clear message the Egyptians are conveying to the Mubarak regime is: ‘You’re corrupt, you’re not to be trusted, you’re no good for the country, you’re way too old and stagnant to continue and enough is enough. It’s time for your exit now.’

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak is incredibly stubborn and will not go quietly, despite the unrelenting violent protests. Oddly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at first proclaimed the Egyptian government ‘stable’, a codeword for American policy. But in a CNN interview opposition leader Mohamed Elbaradei responded: ‘At what price is stability? Is it on the basis of 29 years of martial law? Is it on the basis of 30 years of ossified regime? Is it on the basis of rigged election? That is not stability. That is living on borrowed time.’

Opposition leaders have been thrown in jail on trumped up charges, those imprisoned are routinely tortured and newspaper editors have been jailed simply for ‘insulting’ Mubarak. In 2007, the editor of Al-Dustour faced a prison sentence for writing about Mubarak’s poor health. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as the press have also been targets for frequent government crackdowns. The regime has ruled through fear, intimidation, imprisonment and torture. It is a classic police state.

Having lived in Egypt for four years, I observed some of these police state features firsthand. I attended a hearing at the Court of Cassation for the then-imprisoned outspoken critic of the regime, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo where I taught political science. The judge appeared when he felt like it, hours after the scheduled hearing. Professor Ibrahim was not even allowed to appear. When the judge arrived, he simply announced that he decided that the actual hearing would be postponed to another date and then he left. While diplomats from various embassies, journalists from around the world and family and friends of the detained waited in the courtroom for nearly four hours for the judge’s appearance, the judge’s time on the bench did not last more than five minutes. We all knew it was pre-planned.

I attended meetings where the debate about lifting the longstanding emergency laws illustrated people’s deep anger and frustration. I attended a discussion with the head of Egypt’s human rights watchdog organization, who brought literature with him to distribute to the audience. His literature was confiscated at the doorway. He still provided us with verbal accounts of the severity of the police state, in the form of indefinite detentions and torture. He himself was a torture victim. This is evidence of the futility of trying to reason with the police state.

The public is no longer buying what Mubarak is selling and the masses are no longer fearful. Like in Tunisia, the people of Egypt feverishly desire a clean slate, they are enraged with the Mubarak regime for many good reasons and the time has come for the Pharaoh to end his reign.

Egypt’s population of over 80 million suffers from almost 50 percent illiteracy, crippling unemployment and abysmal poverty. The state of Emergency laws in place since the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 have never been lifted; until his desperate decision to name Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman to the position, Mubarak has never allowed a vice-President to take office; and the Egyptian police state is notorious for rampant corruption and repression. This tragic state of affairs is the Mubarak legacy. The American assistance, to the tune of over US$60 billion during Mubarak’s reign, has only empowered the repressive regime and impeded democratization, which is a blatant contradiction of the American values. The US policy wizards need some serious reassessment of American alliances with Saudi Arabia and other Arab authoritarian ‘client regimes.’

The US and global democracies should unequivocally support the grassroots democratization movement in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. In fact, they should call on Mubarak to step down immediately. The US in particular needs to make a clean break from its long legacy of supporting autocratic dictators in the region for the sake of narrow national interests. Only this stance of unwavering support will redeem the US from its transparent hypocrisy in foreign policies relative to the Middle East. The masses on the ground are very much aware of this hypocrisy and the US and Middle Eastern media did not hesitate to model in front of cameras tear gas canisters in the streets of Cairo with the words ‘Made in the USA’ clearly imprinted on them.

The Egyptian 2011 revolution has significance in another perspective as well: No longer can Western powers justify regime change in order to democratize an Arab state at gunpoint, as in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Removing Saddam Hussein from power is never a bad thing. But, it would have been far more legitimate if the citizens themselves carried out regime change. The Arab masses have shown that they are capable of democratizing themselves. This poses a dilemma for the US because of fears of Islamist groups gaining political power, as in the case of Hamas in Gaza. However, it’s about time that the US policymakers realize that the world is changing in unprecedented ways and the status quo policies originating in the Cold War era no longer apply. The US must illustrate moral courage, consistency and unwavering support for human rights and grassroots democratization processes, even if the political parties that emerge victorious may not be so palatable. Either we live up to the integrity of democracy or we do not and we cannot afford to stall and fumble on the sidelines. The world is watching closely.

The Pharaoh Mubarak may have been at the top of the pyramid for thirty years, but he may soon become a dusty relic.

Dr. Hayat Alvi is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island and the views expressed are her own. Email.

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy