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The Middle East and Western Democracy: Catch 22

The Middle East and Western Democracy: Catch 22

The political impasse that has festered in Egypt and continues to do so as the region has left Western governments scratching their heads and wondering whether to stick or twist. From time immemorial, governments in the western world have had a choice among governments they labelled as friends or foes. This reminds me of the now immortal utterance that “You are either with us or against us”. Rightly so, one cannot choose one’s family but can choose friends; as friends are the family someone chooses for themselves”. A bit of a mouthful I admit, but this may be reflecting the catch 22 situation that is facing the western world in the Egypt in the Egyptian conundrum.  (Photo:  Abdulai Mansaray, author)

With the unrest continuing in Egypt, Mubarak took a very long time before he could address his people. His appearance on TV smacked of the dirty work of his PR machine, as he paraded what looked like a coronation of his new cabinet.  He has since appointed his Intelligence Chief, Omar Suleiman as his Vice President. Did he just wake up from a bad dream and realise that he needed a Vice President for the first time in 30 years? He thought that such a political peace offering or charade will not only take the heat out of the situation but appease his people whom he has come to treat like plebeians. Does he expect those that were saying “crucify him” to suddenly turn around and say “Hosanna in the highest”, just by the flick of a button?

Contrastingly, he publicly paraded some protesters on the national TV the next day. The aim of this exercise is hard to understand but it sounds like these protesters have already been found guilty even before due process. Sounds familiar? Mubarak is failing to accept or realise that his people are asking for one thing and one thing only: for him to disappear into the political desert. Instead, he is trying to ride the sand storm that is gripping his country, hoping that like plebeians, time will be the healer and that allegiances will be switched; just because he decided to surround himself with new friends. If he wanted to bring any political sanity and credibility to the situation, he should allow the people to make that decision by calling a snap election soon or leave the building. That way, the people will speak without the need for bloodshed.

Shuffling the pack by sacking his cabinet seems to be the least of his people’s concerns. By doing so, he has only changed the model of the car but retained the same driver. It’s like replacing a Gulf Stream airliner with a jumbo 747, hoping that by carrying many more passengers, the problem is solved.  One Twitterati described it as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”. The intent there can be reflective of his estimation of his people and can be an insult to their intelligence. Anyone with even one brain cell can tell you that it would not wash. Some believe that as a result of his 30 year reign, he might have been exhibiting some symptoms of delusion; thinking that he was one of the pharaohs. On all counts, Mubarak is wrong in his estimation and political judgement; for if you change the car and not the driver, it is the same highway you would take. What the people of Egypt are asking for is a change of driver and direction.

I mentioned in my previous piece on this topic that the dilemma facing the western governments may be causing some political headaches. Mubarak has been seen as one of the closest allies of the west and especially America, which donates over a billion dollars yearly in aid package. President Obama, as if to circumvent Egypt’s information blockade used Youtube to send his message of peace and the need to avoid violence to the people of Egypt. It is an open secret that Egypt has been a foot soldier of the west’s desire to keep the fanatics and extremists in check. With the exception of the odd occasion, the tunnels between Egypt and Palestine have been relatively shut to prevent chaos between the oldest warring parties in the region.

As many have mentioned, the western governments, who have supported Mubarak all along, now find themselves at crossroads. In their bid to respect, promote and protect democracy, it will be difficult to condemn the protesters; take away the violent bit. If elections are to be conducted now, the Western Allies would want a free and fair election. The worry is, with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood enjoying a huge popularity at grassroots level, the informed opinion is that they will win any free and fair election should it be called now. We saw a similar occurrence in Palestine when the West preached the same but refused to recognise Hamas in 2005.

Equally, it will be difficult to publically condemn an ally, who has been there for you. The political atmosphere that has existed in Egypt had not been missed by radars of the western world. Mubarak has enjoyed both political and financial aromatherapy from the west, and this had in turn ensured his firm grip on power; but for far too long. With the West treading on shifting ground, Mubarak should know that his political life support machine is slowly running out of air; and it its place a Do Not Resuscitate sign is clearly embossed on his name plate. Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. The standoff is now becoming a test of character between the “plebeians” and the “pharaoh”.

Mubarak is failing to acknowledge that power consists of one’s capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and the gift of cooperation (Woodrow Wilson). He is living proof that “power never takes a back step-only in the face of more power”. But he should know that the highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it. As time goes on, he may not realise how fast he will become a political catheter to others, as he becomes the last man standing. With the death toll now risen to over 100, these body count will do little to endear him to his people, least of all give any room for his Allies to resist taking a dig at him. In these sands of time, the political sand dunes that Mubarak had built around him may be receding very fast. According to Abraham Lincoln, “Power is holding someone else’s fear in your hand and showing it to them”. Well, He has held this fear for so long that the people of Egypt have lost the fear of fear; and with it, he has lost his power. The only power he should aspire to is the one that he can exercise over himself; and that is by doing the decent thing and goes with dignity, if there is any left. Staying around will only buy time for the next stop. Iran? You tell me. Don’t forget to turn the lights out on your way out.

Abdulai A. Mansaray.

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