August 05, 2002

We Need to Support Democratization in the Middle East

Tom Friedman hits another one out of the park. I think he's absolutely right: we are the good guys, and good guys act like good guys. I don't think the Bush administration understands this...


Bush's Shame

Watching the pathetic, mealy-mouthed response of President Bush and his State Department to Egypt's decision to sentence the leading Egyptian democracy advocate to seven years in prison leaves one wondering whether the whole Bush foreign policy team isn't just a big bunch of phonies. Shame on all of them. Since Sept. 11 all we've heard out of this Bush team is how illegitimate violence is as a tool of diplomacy or politics, and how critical it is to oust Saddam Hussein in order to bring democracy to the Arab world. Yet last week, when a kangaroo court in Egypt, apparently acting on orders from President Hosni Mubarak, sentenced an ill, 63-year-old Saad Eddin Ibrahim to seven years at "hard labor" for promoting democracy -- for promoting the peaceful alternative to fundamentalist violence -- the Bush-Cheney team sat on its hands. The State Department, in a real profile in courage, said it was "deeply disappointed" by the conviction of Mr. Ibrahim, who holds a U.S. passport. "Disappointed"? I'm disappointed when the Baltimore Orioles lose. When an Egyptian president we give $2 billion a year to jails a pro-American democracy advocate, I'm "outraged" and expect America to do something about it. I'm also frightened, because if there is no space in Egypt for democratic voices for change, then Egyptians will only be left with the mosque. If there is no room in Egypt for Saad Ibrahims, then we will only get more Mohamed Attas -- coming again to a theater near you.



August 4, 2002

Bush's Shame

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

Watching the pathetic, mealy-mouthed response of President Bush and his State Department to Egypt's decision to sentence the leading Egyptian democracy advocate to seven years in prison leaves one wondering whether the whole Bush foreign policy team isn't just a big bunch of phonies. Shame on all of them.

Since Sept. 11 all we've heard out of this Bush team is how illegitimate violence is as a tool of diplomacy or politics, and how critical it is to oust Saddam Hussein in order to bring democracy to the Arab world. Yet last week, when a kangaroo court in Egypt, apparently acting on orders from President Hosni Mubarak, sentenced an ill, 63-year-old Saad Eddin Ibrahim to seven years at "hard labor" for promoting democracy for promoting the peaceful alternative to fundamentalist violence the Bush-Cheney team sat on its hands.

The State Department, in a real profile in courage, said it was "deeply disappointed" by the conviction of Mr. Ibrahim, who holds a U.S. passport. "Disappointed"? I'm disappointed when the Baltimore Orioles lose. When an Egyptian president we give $2 billion a year to jails a pro-American democracy advocate, I'm "outraged" and expect America to do something about it.

I'm also frightened, because if there is no space in Egypt for democratic voices for change, then Egyptians will only be left with the mosque. If there is no room in Egypt for Saad Ibrahims, then we will only get more Mohamed Attas coming again to a theater near you.

Mr. Ibrahim's "crime" was that his institute at the American University in Cairo was helping to teach Egyptians how to register to vote, how to fill out a ballot and how to monitor elections. The Egyptian court accused him of embezzling funds from the European Union, which supported his efforts. The outraged E.U. said no such thing ever happened.

This monkey trial was really about an insecure, isolated Mr. Mubarak quashing any dissenters, and it is much more important than it looks because so many more people are watching than we think. The other day, I interviewed a leading Sri Lankan human rights activist, Radhika Coomaraswamy, director of the International Center for Ethnic Studies. We started out talking about Sri Lanka but ended up talking about Mr. Ibrahim, whom she knew, and America.

"What is the nonviolent alternative for expressing discontent [and promoting change]?" she asked me. "It's democracy. When you remove any democratic alternative, the only route left in many countries for expressing discontent is religious fundamentalism. Saad is the alternative democratic voice, and if we don't protect it we're just inviting more violence."

This ties in with a larger concern that human rights activists share toward America today a concern that post-9/11 America is not interested anymore in law and order, just order, and it's not interested in peace and quiet, but just quiet. I am struck by how many Sri Lankans, who are as pro-American as they come, have made some version of this observation to me: America as an idea, as a source of optimism and as a beacon of liberty is critical to the world but you Americans seem to have forgotten that since 9/11. You've stopped talking about who you are, and are only talking now about who you're going to invade, oust or sanction.

These days, said Mrs. Coomaraswamy, "none of us in the human rights community would think of appealing to the U.S. for support for upholding a human rights case maybe to Canada, to Norway or to Sweden but not to the U.S. Before there were always three faces of America out in the world the face of the Peace Corps, the America that helps others, the face of multinationals and the face of American military power.

"My sense is that the balance has gone wrong lately and that the only face of America we see now is the one of military power, and it really frightens the world. . . . I understand that there is always a tension between security concerns and holding governments accountable for human rights. But if you focus on security alone and allow basic human rights violations in the name of security, then, well, as someone who grew up in America and went to law school there, I find that heartbreaking."

So do I. How about before we go trying to liberate a whole country Iraq we first liberate just one man, one good man, who is now sitting in an Egyptian jail for pursuing the very democratic ideals that we profess to stand for.

Posted by DeLong at August 5, 2002 07:58 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Well, this seems pretty cut and dried, yes of course it's a bad thing that we should stop, but does anyone expect Bush to do anything about it? The Bush administration has a very one-track mind, and it currently focusing on a war with Iraq. Not on why such a war should be fought, or what we want to do with Iraq afterwards, or anything on a higher level than "Will this help us wage war on Iraq?" And clearly, alienating one of our big Allies in the Middle East won't.

So Bush ignores the ends meant to be achieved by War, fails to have any sort of vision beyond the end of his nose, and continues to let the Middle East slide in fundmentalist chaos. I'm shocked.

Posted by: Dennis O'Dea on August 5, 2002 08:08 PM

america's press needs to attend to these critical human rights issues - when hosni mubarak has been interviewed by pbs or by charlie rose there has been no questioning about human rights problems in egypt - the press most often plays to the grandeur of a title rather than to the need to conduct a discerning question session - pbs has often interviewed south african leaders but never challenged them in questions about the failure to treat so many many south african people who are affected by hiv/aids.

Posted by: randall on August 6, 2002 11:16 AM

Dennis, thanks for your insight, it's a crisp rendering of the Bush team foreign policy ...

... And today the FT front-paged that:

The US is trying to quash a human rights lawsuit launched by Indonesian villagers against Exxon Mobil, claimingit could undermine the war on terrorism.

The State Department said the action alleging complicity in human rights abuses by the oil group could also have a "potentially serious adverse impact" on US interests.

"disappointing!" to say the least...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on August 6, 2002 11:30 AM

Jean: Take a look at AllAfrica for a related story about human rights and oil and woman power.

http://allafrica.com/stories/200208020511.html

Posted by: Anne on August 6, 2002 12:05 PM

Reading the AllAfrica article reveals that mobile phones are indeed the information weapon of the modern times. Recall also the role it played in the aborted attack. Reminds me of one of my uncle's favorite stories. Kabilla was about to seize his gold mine. Sufficed he gave him his satelite GSM to be left in peace. I don't know if I should laugh or cry...

As regards the assumed negative effect of natural resources on LDC politics, notice that when it is supposedly at work, a Western business and governement usually isn't too far away...

But the nice thing with foreign mining companies for developing countries is that their rents can be taxed heavily (resource production is inelastic in short-term). G. Soros is waging a campain agaist this practice. His idea is to oblige all mining companies to disclose transfers to local governments and officials. Let's hope this will not mainly strenghen foreign businesses' bargaining power...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on August 6, 2002 05:15 PM

Jean-Philippe: So you mean the adminsitration was right to prevent cell phone technology transfer from South to North Korea (as part of the so-called "sunshine policy")?

Posted by: LM on August 6, 2002 05:23 PM

jps - allowing for population size difference why has singapore with no "natural" resources been so much more successful in developing than nigeria or even the smaller botswana....

brad - though you posted the fine article on southern african mining you did not add your own ideas on development in southern africa - say tanzania or even south africa

hoping brad will write on southern african development

randall

Posted by: randall on August 7, 2002 08:52 AM

Randall: Singapore developed under the auspices of a British military garrison as the gateway to the East. Being a vital choke-point of the global hegemon probably isn't a viable development model for Nigeria or Botswana.

Posted by: Daniel Davies on August 7, 2002 09:30 AM

... and Botswana is a growth miracle in the context of sub-Saharan Africa! And overall, South Africa is also doing very well by the same standards.

Recall that we're talking about a continent that has been suffering through years of negative economic growth!

It is tragic that most of Botswana's growth is going to be shaved by the AIDS pandemic though.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on August 7, 2002 10:16 AM

nelson mandela has long spoken of using malaysia and singapore as models of development for south africa and neighbors - what can be learned with such "models" - perhaps the newly democratic south africa can serve as a better model and engine for development through southern africa

Posted by: on August 7, 2002 10:23 AM

jps - agreed about botswana and south africa - does south africa or botswana really have the resources to cope with the hiv/aids epidemic now that it is so advanced?

43,792,000 total population of South Africa.

23,666,000 population of adults 15 to 49.

4,700,000 adults HIV/AIDS positive.

20.1% adult rate of infection.

57.5% of infected adults are women 15 to 49.

20.51 - 30.76% range of women 15 to 24

infected.

250,000 children 0 to 14.

360,000 AIDS deaths in 2001.

660,000 AIDS orphans cumulatively to 2002.

1,554,000 total population of Botswana.

762,000 population of adults 15 to 49.

300,000 adults HIV/AIDS positive.

38.8% adult rate of infection.

56.7% of infected adults are women 15 to 49.

22.99 - 44.98% range of women 15 to 24

infected.

28,000 children 0 to 14.

26,000 AIDS deaths in 2001.

69,000 AIDS orphans cumulatively to 2002.

Posted by: rnadall on August 7, 2002 02:56 PM
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