Shadow Government

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Not everyone was wrong on Egypt

Peter Feaver is right that many voices got things wrong on Egypt at multiple points over the last couple of weeks — especially (now former) President Mubarak himself. But this doesn’t mean that everyone has been wrong. As Jackson Diehl and others have pointed out, the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt has for the past ...

By , the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Peter Feaver is right that many voices got things wrong on Egypt at multiple points over the last couple of weeks -- especially (now former) President Mubarak himself. But this doesn't mean that everyone has been wrong. As Jackson Diehl and others have pointed out, the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt has for the past year warned repeatedly, in public and in private, and with specific policy prescriptions, of the fragility of Mubarak's rule. Moreover the Working Group stressed the urgent need for the United States to wean ourselves from exclusive reliance on Mubarak and instead extend diplomatic and material support to democracy reformers in Egypt. As I have noted before, the White House should have seen this coming.

The United States has lost significant ground in Egypt over the past few weeks, by repeatedly failing to get out in front with a clear, united, and public message of support for democracy and against Mubarak's continued misrule. This amounts to a missed opportunity by President Obama to assure the Tahrir Square protestors of U.S. support, and of the entire administration to extend crucial economic and diplomatic support for Egyptian democracy activists over the last two years. As Jake Tapper and Glenn Kessler documented, the Obama Administration's record on this count is a failure, most crucially in its drastic budget cuts and abdication of the Bush administration's policy of providing support directly to democratic opposition groups.

In the midst of today's exuberance over Mubarak's departure, as the White House wrestled with what to say and do next, it should realize that just as important as specific statements and policies will be demonstrating to the people of Egypt, that the United States will partner with them in creating a better future for themselves. President Obama's eloquent statement today struck all the right notes, but he has offered the right words on behalf of democracy before -- it is the deeds that have been wanting.  

Peter Feaver is right that many voices got things wrong on Egypt at multiple points over the last couple of weeks — especially (now former) President Mubarak himself. But this doesn’t mean that everyone has been wrong. As Jackson Diehl and others have pointed out, the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt has for the past year warned repeatedly, in public and in private, and with specific policy prescriptions, of the fragility of Mubarak’s rule. Moreover the Working Group stressed the urgent need for the United States to wean ourselves from exclusive reliance on Mubarak and instead extend diplomatic and material support to democracy reformers in Egypt. As I have noted before, the White House should have seen this coming.

The United States has lost significant ground in Egypt over the past few weeks, by repeatedly failing to get out in front with a clear, united, and public message of support for democracy and against Mubarak’s continued misrule. This amounts to a missed opportunity by President Obama to assure the Tahrir Square protestors of U.S. support, and of the entire administration to extend crucial economic and diplomatic support for Egyptian democracy activists over the last two years. As Jake Tapper and Glenn Kessler documented, the Obama Administration’s record on this count is a failure, most crucially in its drastic budget cuts and abdication of the Bush administration’s policy of providing support directly to democratic opposition groups.

In the midst of today’s exuberance over Mubarak’s departure, as the White House wrestled with what to say and do next, it should realize that just as important as specific statements and policies will be demonstrating to the people of Egypt, that the United States will partner with them in creating a better future for themselves. President Obama’s eloquent statement today struck all the right notes, but he has offered the right words on behalf of democracy before — it is the deeds that have been wanting.  

Specifically, this means holding the Egyptian military accountable for ruling temporarily while staying committed to a specific timetable for nationwide elections, and offering full-fledged diplomatic and economic support for Egypt’s beleaguered political parties in preparation for the elections. It will also mean renewed efforts on behalf of legal protections for civil liberties like freedom of speech and freedom of religion — which also serve as institutional bulwarks against the undemocratic inclinations of the Muslim Brotherhood. A new poll by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy offers  encouraging findings that only 15 percent of Egyptians approve of the Brotherhood, and only 12 percent want sharia law. Egyptian soil is fertile for the growth of democracy.

What might this mean in history? It is impossible to say. But as I note today over at ConservativeHomeUSA, Feb. 11 also marks the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which unleashed many of the maladies that afflict the Middle East today. It is a telling contrast between the two revolutions that Iran today arrested more opposition leaders and blocked media reporting on Egyptians dancing to their freedom in the streets. We can hope that Egypt’s revolution will give a new meaning to Feb. 11. Yet hope is not a policy, as the saying goes, and so the administration should be working now to craft a bold policy that bolsters democracy in Egypt, and helps the Egyptian people turn Feb. 11 into a notable date on the calendar of liberty.  

Will Inboden is the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, both at the University of Texas at Austin, a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.

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