There’s really only one thing worth writing about this week for any self-respecting International Relations major: Egypt. The fallout from the streets of Cairo has spread all over the world. As protestors battle the police across the Arab world’s largest nation, Syria has agreed to long-awaited reforms out of fear of popular revolt, China has blocked web searches for the word “Egypt” and banned mention of the revolts in state media and world markets are roiling over the risk that oil prices could shoot up and destroy the fragile global recovery.
What should we be doing about it over here though? As tempting as it is to let events run their course and let the Egyptians figure things out for themselves, those tanks in the streets didn’t pay for themselves. No, they were provided courtesy of Uncle Sam and his $1.3 billion annual gift of military aid to the Egyptian government. The fact that the taxpayers of America are subsidizing the arrests and killings of Egyptians who want democracy should make us take a serious look at what we have obligated ourselves to do.
Many hold that the subsidy is there for a reason. Better the corrupt and authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak than a radical Islamic one, right? This argument might be valid if that was the actual alternative to Mr. Mubarak. But the chosen leader of the protest movement is Mohammed El Baradei, a secular moderate who has been endorsed by, among others, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s resident Islamist political party. The other thing worth asking is what precisely the Mubarak regime has gotten us in terms of progress in the Middle East. An independent Palestine co-existing with Israel peacefully? Popularity among the Arab people? Help with our misadventure in Iraq? A reduction in Islamist terrorism? It has, of course, brought us nothing but charges of hypocrisy that we preach democracy and then pay for the tear gas used to suppress it.
What’s worse is those that say those things are absolutely right. Look at this excerpt from President Obama’s famous speech to the Muslim world (given, ironically enough, in Cairo):
“But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”
What has American policy been recently? To issue generic declarations along the lines of those above and refuse to take any concrete action that might actually help the protestors on the ground. Instead, it should be to strike at the one place it might actually matter. If Obama actually believes in his own words, he would threaten to cut off all military aid to Egypt unless Mubarak resigns. The U.S. has no business supporting a ruler who has no control over his own country and no intentions of fulfilling Obama’s dreams of democracy in the Arab world.