Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Sun Also Rises

The United States’ response to the revolution in Egypt has been understandable but ultimately still lacking. It is important to acknowledge that the Egyptian revolution was entirely an internal affair. The grievances were between a ruler and his people, and the revolution itself was from start to finish, homegrown. It was wise therefore that the United States respect the Egyptian people’s right to self determination. If I recall correctly, Secretary Clinton made a statement to this effect during the protests. The challenge for American- Egyptian relations however starts now. The United States already missed one opportunity to win the goodwill of the Egyptian people during the protests. While intervention was neither necessary nor appropriate, it was obvious America stayed behind the curve in terms of rhetoric and support. This is understandable, it took less than three weeks to topple a regime in power for more than three decades. It is no surprise reaction time would be slow. As I hovered near my television in Cairo a week or so before Mubarak resigned, I kept silently urging President Obama to come out with a clear message in support of the protesters. I understand the delicacy of the matter. Gamble and lose and suddenly the country would have made a serious error with a key strategic ally. Yet, the Egyptian realization of values that America founds itself upon was too clear a moment to tip-toe around. This opportunity lost, it is time to step in and help make real change possible. As a piece in Al Masry Al Youm describes , the road ahead for Egypt is long. Much of the change thus far has been political when it needs to be economic. As an NPR Market Place report suggested, Egypt is ready for democracy, but the adult illiteracy rate of over 30% will prove a challenge. Acknowledging that the United States already sends billions of dollars in aid to Egypt, a targeted initiative would go a long way. For example, offering to fund Egyptian run programs that fight illiteracy, a project especially important as elections draw near, would go a long way towards forming a new and better relationship with the Egyptian people and possibly the larger Arab world.
Understandably, the United States and Israel both worry about what is to come next. For both parties I would offer the following solace: this will be a period of transition, but can ultimately lead to relationships that are more sustainable. Dictators have a shelf life, and desperately supporting those that have an iron grip on power has proven to be poor foreign policy. It is hard to tell where the pieces will lie, but thus far the changes in the Arab world have been secular, peaceful where possible, and democratic. This is a surprising and positive trend that the United States and even Israel, should both embrace. Uncertainty abounds, but soon it will be time for the United States to start forming new and improved relationships with countries that will look entirely different this month than last. This is an opportunity. As Middle East Institute scholar Robert Murphy argues, now is the time for the United States to rewrite its Middle East policy in order to finally align its interests with its values.

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