With a popular Egyptian revolution unfolding in front of us, I thought I'd provide a little Egyptian background info. I'm not going to get into what the United States should do or should not do, because we don't control Egypt. Our options are limited. We can withhold aid and make a plea for human rights, but Egyptians will determine the future of Egypt, not us. Contrary to the belief of some, we don't run the world.
The best thing Jimmy Carter accomplished as President was to broker a peace deal between Israel and Egypt in 1979. That might be the only good thing Carter accomplished as President, but it was significant. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize for that peace treaty. You can tell it was a good treaty by who hated it - the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Arab League, and assorted Islamic jihadists. The peace treaty was hated by the people who didn't want peace. Following the treaty, Egypt was suspended from the Arab League for ten years, and Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. While Egyptian Arabs still consider Israel the enemy, there have been no armed conflicts between the two nations in the subsequent 31 years.
As part of Carter's 1979 agreement, the United States began sending economic and military aid to Egypt, and also agreed to back subsequent Egyptian governments. We sent $38 billion to Egypt between 1979 and 2000. We gave Egpt an average of about $2 billion a year, and sent $1.3 billion last year. Most of that aid was military.
After Anwar Sadat was assassinated by the warmongering a-holes, Hosni Mubarak took over as the President of Egypt in 1981. America was committed to back him, and we have ever since. Egypt also helped us. Egypt was a member of the allied coalition to evict Saddam Hussein's Iraq forces from Kuwait in 1991. There was a payoff, of course. After the war, the U.S., England, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf forgave Egypt around $20 billion of it's debt.
In 2003, President Mubarak spoke out against the Iraq War, saying the Israeli-Palestinian situation should be resolved first, and also saying an Iraq invasion would create "100 Bin Ladens".
Mubarak had American backing, but his government was an authoritarian and corrupt one. He was re-elected by sham referendums in 1987, 1993, 1999. Mubarak was the only candidate in those "elections". Under pressure to make democratic reforms, Egypt amended it's constitution in 2005 to allow multiple candidates to run for President. It didn't make much difference, because the electoral institutions and the state run media was stilled controlled by Mubarak. In addition, there were widespread reports of Mubarak rigging the election, and there were political persections, including the arrest and conviction of the election runner-up to Mubarak in December 2005.
Wikipedia has more on Mubarak's corruption:
While in office, political corruption in the Mubarak administration's Ministry of Interior has risen dramatically, due to the increased power over the institutional system that is necessary to secure the prolonged presidency. Such corruption has led to the imprisonment of political figures and young activists without trials, illegal undocumented hidden detention facilities, and rejecting universities, mosques, newspapers staff members based on political inclination. On a personnel level, each individual officer can and will violate citizens' privacy in his area using unconditioned arrests due to the emergency law.
Egypt is a semi-presidential republic under Emergency Law (Law No. 162 of 1958) and has been since 1967, except for an 18-month break in 1980s. Under the law, police powers are extended, constitutional rights suspended and censorship is legalized. The law sharply circumscribes any non-governmental political activity: street demonstrations, non-approved political organizations, and unregistered financial donations are formally banned. Some 17,000 people are detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run as high as 30,000. Under that "state of emergency", the government has the right to imprison individuals for any period of time, and for virtually no reason, thus keeping them in prisons without trials for any period. The government continues the claim that opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood could come into power in Egypt if the current government did not forgo parliamentary elections, confiscate the group's main financiers' possessions, and detain group figureheads, actions which are virtually impossible without emergency law and judicial-system independence prevention. Pro-democracy advocates in Egypt argue that this goes against the principles of democracy, which include a citizen's right to a fair trial and their right to vote for whichever candidate and/or party they deem fit to run their country.
Mubarak is 82 years old, and different Egyptian groups have been planning for a post-Mubarak Egypt. Unfortunately, the number one anti-Mubarak group in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Islamist movement. Another major figure is Egypt is the former head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Mohamed ElBaradei. He has been calling for Mubarak to step down as well, as follows:
"You are the owners of this revolution. You are the future," the Associated Press quoted ElBaradei addressing the crowd after nightfall. "Our essential demand is the departure of the regime and the beginning of a new Egypt in which every Egyptian lives in virtue, freedom and dignity."
We don't know how the Egyptian situation will play out, but as far as U.S. interests go, the last thing we want to see is the Islamists take over for Mubarak. I don't know if that will happen, but it is a real possibility. We already have one Iran. We don't need another. Here's to hoping the revolution really does end up with democratic reform and human rights being the ultimate winners in Egypt.
Correction - Mohamed ElBaradei is the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), not the Atomic Energy Commission. My bad.
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