Democratic Terrorists in Egypt?

I’ve been watching coverage of the mess in Egypt and have not commented here until now. I’m stunned by what I’m hearing . . . and not hearing.

TV commentator Rich Lowry spoke tonight as if the Obama administration had only two choices. He could support Hosni Mubarak, the evil dictator, and watch the Egyptian President shoot down the demonstrators in the streets. Or, he could support the “democratic demonstrators” in the streets of Cairo. Obama, he thinks, rightly chose to support the democratic demonstrators.

Where does Lowry get the ridiculous idea that the protesters are “democratic”? Their demonstrations have hardly been peaceful.

And who are the Muslim Brotherhood? They sound like barbarians, and the likely heirs to the evil Mubarak regime.

John McCain said it well yesterday. Mubarak has been a friend to the United States for many years, and he has helped to keep some stability in the Middle East—which is otherwise hell-bent on the extermination of Israel. But Mubarak stayed too long and did not use his position to institute a democratic government in Egypt.

After watching the mess on the streets every night from the comfort of my living room, I’d like to know what democratic measures anyone, Mubarak included, could have introduced. I can’t visualize these people stowing their molotov cocktails the day after tomorrow and going peacefully to the polls to elect a respectable government in a free election.

The Egyptians are making a spectacle of themselves in front of the rest of the world. Their actions have galvanized dispirited citizens in countries elsewhere in the region. What exactly is their message, and why should we care what they want if all they can say is that Mubarak has to go?

Mubarak says he would like to leave, but believes the country would descend into greater chaos if he just walked away right now. Maybe people should consider the possibility that he’s right.

Here’s another possibility. Our president has been telling us, the American people, that he’s been talking tough to Mubarak on the phone. When our president announces this on television, then it doesn’t matter what he said on the phone. The world has heard Obama scold Mubarak and tell him what to do about the mess.

So what’s Mubarak supposed to do in response? Is he supposed to let Obama dictate to him what he should do? What if Mubarak is as vainglorious as Obama?

Does Obama really understand “the democratic process”? He seems to think that the process begins with a free election. This is simply naive. A “free election” isn’t an important step in a democratic process if that election results in a fascist government. And it looks like that’s the result we should expect. Dana Perino told Greta tonight, “Democracies take time.” Obama doesn’t know that?

What’s really going on in Egypt? Everybody is guessing here, including our officials. They’ve made that pretty obvious. Shame on them for being so out of touch with world realities. And shame on us if we stand by and watch without criticism the naive, oddly paranoid and aggressive response of our government to a complex conflagration.

We’ve ostracized a valuable ally. Israel is mystified by our response. Things aren’t getting better on the streets of Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood lurks in the background. Obama chastens a proud dictator who no doubt has his own ideas about what he should do. Mubarak won’t budge (as of today). Western reporters are crying foul for the mistreatment they’re receiving in their efforts to scoop the story.

I would like a clear and detailed statement from Mr. Obama that explains his view of our relationship with Egypt, and how it will improve if Mubarak walks away and the people participate in the kind of free election he has goaded them to demand.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking.

11 Responses to Democratic Terrorists in Egypt?

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Ray,

    I’ve approved your comment for posting here, but I have to let my readers know that you have cited several articles published at the website for Human Rights Watch, and I have to say that I believe this group has a seriously distorted view of human rights. Readers should also examine the record of donors to Human Rights Watch, and consider alternative organizations for their own news and support.

    One problem with “all-purpose” human rights advocacy is the tendency to place different alleged human rights on the same level of significance. Another problem—related to the first—is the possibility of fostering sympathy for dubious “rights” claims through association with clearly legitimate rights claims.

    I strongly support the International Justice Mission, directed by Gary Haugen. Here is their statement of purpose:

    International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to ensure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to promote functioning public justice systems.

  2. Ray says:

    Sorry for delay, Doug. While members in this house were Reagan Republicans, this member was deeply involved in getting disappointed by the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the formatting of text disappeared when transferred to this box. But, it still should be intelligible

    Selected links, not exhaustive:

    Egyptian government engages in use of torture
    Human Rights Watch Paper 2004 — see this link to download copy of PDF
    http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2004/02/25/egypt-s-torture-epidemic

    “Human Rights Watch found that law enforcement officers routinely and deliberately use torture and ill-treatment – in ordinary criminal cases as well as with political dissidents and security detainees – to coerce confessions, extract other information, or simply to punish detainees.”
    http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/01/31/egypt-impunity-torture-fuels-days-rage

    US authorities admissions to approving torture on their own watch
    “President Bush’s bold and blatant admission that he ordered waterboarding is an obvious place to begin a criminal investigation.”
    http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/02/07/us-geneva-case-against-bush-shows-need-prosecute-torture

    US denial of endorsing torture by Egypt of renditioned people is based on legalese not actual practice
    Bush denial “. . . we send people to countries where they say they’re not going to torture the people” [emphasis added]
    “The U.S. Department of State’s latest human rights report on Egypt, published in February, stated that ‘torture and abuse of detainees by police, security personnel, and prison guards remained common and persistent,’ and detailed numerous cases.”
    http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2005/05/10/egypt-suspects-sent-back-face-torture
    Human Rights Watch FAQ on “Diplomatic Assurances” Against Torture citing examples of rendered individuals tortured despite “diplomatic assurances”
    http://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/eca/ecaqna1106/
    “In 2004, a federal appellate court ruled that Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian man, should not be returned home because it was ‘more likely than not’ that he would face torture.”
    http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2007/05/31/us-halt-deportation-torture-egypt
    “If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear-never to see them again-you send them to Egypt.” Former CIA official Robert Baer, in Stephen Grey, “America’s gulag,” The New Statesman, 17 May 2004.
    http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11757/section/2
    The Role of the United States, Section from Human Rights Watch publication entitled Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt
    http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11757/section/5
    See also, Wikipedia article “Extraordinary Rendition by the United States”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraordinary_rendition_by_the_United_States#June_27.2C_2006_Council_of_Europe_resolution
    The Torture Career of Egypt’s New Vice President: Omar Suleiman and the Rendition to Torture Program
    http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Torture-Career-of-Egyp-by-Stephen-Soldz-110129-181.html
    Quoting Michael Scheuer, former senior CIA official who created the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and helped set up the rendition program during the Clinton administration: “They don’t have the same legal system we have. But we know that going into it . . . And so the idea that we’re gonna suddenly throw our hands up like Claude Raines in ‘Casablanca’ and say, ‘I’m shocked that justice in Egypt isn’t like it is in Milwaukee,’ there’s a certain disingenuousness to that.”
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/04/60minutes/main678155.shtml

  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Ray,

    Can you re-send the list of websites?

  4. Brian Livermore says:

    A democracy is only as good as the foundation it is built upon (just law, character of the people, etc.).

  5. Ray says:

    Doug:

    Sent a response to your question listing several websites (no other text), but I do not see it here. Did you receive it? If not, is it because it only listed website links and no text.

    Ray

  6. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi CMC,

    I wonder if you could clarify. It sounds like you disagree with something in my post, but I think I’m missing it somehow.

    -Doug

  7. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Karl,

    I really like your comments and the careful thought you’ve given this.

    I agree that things were more peaceful at the outset. And it does appear that things have gotten murkier as conflicting factions have entered the fray. Do we know, at this point, that the only factions are Mubarak supporters wielding devices of violence and peaceful (mostly student) demonstrators? I don’t think we know this at all. We simply don’t have reliable news coverage of details on the ground.

    It’s helpful to review the history of Egypt over the past fifty years. Former president Anwar Sadat was once a tiger in relation to Israel. But Jimmy Carter, bless his heart, was able to facilitate a meaningful peace accord between Egypt and Israel. This made Sadat very unpopular with certain groups in Egypt. And it eventually got him assassinated. Mubarak, who was Egypt’s vice president at the time, was wounded when Sadat was killed. Mubarak became president under these conditions. It’s to his credit that at the time he stuck tenaciously to the accord with Israel, though it continued to be unpopular and challenging within Egypt. Mubarak suppressed Islamic radical groups. While it’s true that he also suppressed efforts by others to move toward real democracy, I argue that we don’t know how complicated things were politically. Do we know that democracy could have been seeded and grown into a mature plant in Egypt by now? It’s hard to say, but I think the odds are against it.

    Of course, I firmly believe in democracy and would very much like it to be realized in Egypt, or any place else in the world. The question is whether democracy is yet viable there, or in any other country where Islam is dominant. I’m not saying that it isn’t. I’m saying I don’t know and that this is something probably no one really knows.

    But what is democracy? I was making the point that democracy is not simply a matter of free elections. If people want and vote for fascism, for example, what they get isn’t democracy. (And what they lose is the opportunity, in future, to revert to a true democracy, except by means—perhaps—of another revolution.)

    Should we let the Egyptian people sort out all by themselves what form of government they will transition to? I think the question is not whether it should be sorted out by them alone but whether it even can be. If Western democratic nations refrain from influencing events, we can’t count on all other nations showing similar restraint. In fact, isn’t it far more likely that others in the Middle East, with very different national interests than our own, will actively seek to influence events on the ground and behind the scene? Let’s not forget that Islam is a nationalist religion, with ambitions to spread its version of theocracy around the world.

    I appreciate the comparison with the American Revolution. There are some similarities perhaps; but there are some very compelling differences, as well. One similarity is that the American Revolution did not unfold without influence from the outside. The British and the French, in particular, had an interest in the outcome, and they weren’t at all on the same page.

    There are crucial differences.

    (1) The British monarchy was faced with problems at home, and not only on the American continent. It was, in fact, waning in its influence. I believe the American Revolution actually influenced events in Great Britain and contributed to the democratization of that country.

    (2) At the time, there were no models of real democracy to examine and emulate. And there surely were no democratic states that could have assisted in the forging of democracy in America. Today, there are proven democracies with the capacity to facilitate democratic goals if that is what people really desire.

    (3) The Boston Tea Party was peaceful and mostly clandestine (occurring in the darkness of a single night). It involved a handful of people. (I believe participants should have been rounded up and arrested, even if they protested for good reason.)

    (4) The American Revolution was fought in the colonies, not in Great Britain. Britain’s claim to absolute control over the colonies was contestable in a way that, say, control over Oxfordshire or Cambridgeshire would not have been. And this is supported by the fact that citizens of the colonies were treated differently than citizens of England.

    The American Revolution produced a good result, we now know in hindsight. That was by no means a foregone conclusion at the outset and there were many patriots who wished not to participate and many who participated only very reluctantly. (And let’s not forget about the Whigs.) But was the American Revolution justified? This is a complex question. And you might assume that I and most Americans would simply, without a second thought, say, “Of course it was.” But why of course? I’m not a utilitarian. So I wouldn’t seek to justify the Revolution simply in terms of what it achieved. And after all, it might have failed. Would it then have been justified? Not by the standards of ethical utilitarianism.

    The moral justification of a political revolution, on my view, must be justified on grounds that do not depend on the actual outcome. Today, it happens, is the 104th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday. Bonhoeffer famously and courageously determined to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He and his co-conspirators failed. They were arrested and executed. Their execution occurred shortly before the Allied victory in World War 2. And do you know, Bonhoeffer did not have a high expectation that their plan would succeed? Rather, he believed he was under an obligation, that it was the right thing to do, even should the effort fail. In his case, the verdict of obligation was worked out in a thoughtful consideration of the authoritative will of the loving God of the Christian Bible. Not everyone agreed with him then (most disagreed), and many would disagree still. But the point is simply that his action was from a sense of duty and deep moral principle informed by a close study of God’s revealed purposes.

    I believe that we should not stand by and let the Egyptian people decide their own fate, even if that means a choice for fascism. Why? For two reasons, in particular. First, fascism will not be good for the Egyptian people. And saying so isn’t strictly patronizing. When fascists rise to power, they do so by usurping power, against the will of the many who desire, but can do nothing to achieve, real freedom. Second, modern fascist states have historically proven to be globally destabilizing. World War 2 is a permanently memorable testament to this. The world does not deserve another fascist state, no matter what the people of a particular state may want.

    I mentioned Bonhoeffer and Hitler’s regime. In the 1930s, as Hitler rose to power, people began to anticipate where he would take the great nation of Germany. Many of Germany’s citizens became gravely concerned. Some made valiant attempts to persuade the British and the Americans to intervene. Even high-level military officials in Hitler’s military quietly worked to undermine Hitler’s influence. They drafted risky plans whose success depended on support from other nations. Those nations, including my own, did not heed the call.

    Karl, I’m not making an argument that Mubarak should enjoy our continued support simply because it serves our own interests better than the alternatives. It’s far more complicated than that. I’m glad you commented. I don’t consider it a rant at all. And I hope you’ll continue to read my posts and share your views!

    -Doug

  8. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi JayRay,

    What is your specific source of information about rendition and torture?

  9. cmc says:

    Gee I heard on Fox that this was a culmination of the Bush Administration’s democracy in the Middle East. This was the plan and reason for invading Iraq.

    I guess as usual you can have it both ways, take the credit and lay the blame at the same time. Time to reload not to shoot!

  10. kapeka says:

    Hi,

    I usually really like your Blog. But on this topic I have to disagree completely with you.

    You write that their demonstrations haven’t been peaceful. Well, that’s true for the last two days. But that’s just because of pro-mubarak protesters who have provoked and attacked the peaceful demonstrants. And there are a lot of solid indications that those pro-mubarak protests and the violance has been organised by the Mubarak-Regime in order to discredit this revolution. And there are solid indications that the Mubarak-Regime has let criminals loose in numbers of thousands to spread chaos in the country for the same reason. The last week up to Wednesday this week has been more peaceful than any one could imagine. I don’t know what information you receive in the US but that’s at least what we hear about egypt here in Germany from a lot of different sources.

    You write that you don’t know what those demonstrants want despite of having Mubarak gone. Well, haven’t most revolutions started that way? Did the french revolution start with a fully thought-out plan how they would like to install a perfect democracy after the king is gone? Well, I highly doubt it. They were unsatisfied about their living conditions, about no opportunity for labor and the wide-spread poverty in contrast to the decadent life-style of the rulers … well, thats sounds exactly like the situation in Tunesia and Egypt, and Yemen … well, like nearly every country in the near-east.

    What about your own revolution back in the days that led the US into their independence? Did the Boston Tea-Party demonstrants (or terrorists, depends on the point of view I guess) have a plan? Or were they just unsatisfied about the taxes that were burdened upon them and the lack of democracy etc.

    Who could have guests that those tea-party-pirates would once become a nation that became a force of peace in the world? No one. It might as well have gone completely wrong in North America and it might have become a “failed continent.” Thats the risk you take if you start a revolution. And thats the risk you have to take and to grant the people of egypt.

    Yeah, Mubarak might have been a good partner for the western world and Israel. Thats true. And no one knows who might follow him. But shouldn’t we let this decision be made by the egypt people. Democracy is not about making the right decision or about the kind of decisions that would please the US etc., but its about making decisions that reflect the will of the people, at least in principle.

    I can’t understand how a nation especially like the USA, which declares it stands for peace and democracy around the world, supports someone like Mubarak, who might stand for some kind of peace … as long as this peace doesn’t cut his power … but who definitively doesn’t stand for democracy. That he has proven over and over again.
    What kind of signal does the US send to the world about its self-understanding and its moral principles, if it demands more democracy from China and would like to see less democracy in Egypt, just because they think Mubarak is a nicer partner for them.

    This is really bugging me. Sorry for this little rant. But I am really disturbed by some of the comments from the US about the situation in Egypt.

  11. Ray says:

    Interesting simplification of a people’s response to a political regime by totally ignoring the graft and corruption that are de riguer in the individual’s necessary dealings with government representatives. For far less governmental abuse, this country’s founding fathers were considered treasonous rabble for seeking freedom of what they perceived to be tyranny.

    But, if I have sympathy for a person who has finally reached a breaking point, I will admit that I have trouble compartmentalizing my world view enough to support a regime, no matter how much it is in the economic interests of this country, whose substantial contributions to American interests included providing a place for rendition and torture (a fine art in which that government has earned a noteriety.)

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