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History Shows That President Obama Should Support Hosni Mubarak In Egypt

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Most of President Obama’s State of the Union Address dealt with domestic issues like dealing with the national debt, education, and “Winning the Future”.

Obama hoped to keep his main focus on jobs and the American economy, but the latest images and video segments of anti-government protests in Egypt, playing out across the world, will force Obama to pay very close attention to Egypt and the Middle East.

"Who knows where this is going?" said Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to several Middle Eastern countries and currently dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. "Should things not hold in Egypt, or should this catch fire in other Middle Eastern states, people really are going to watch how he handles the first major new foreign crisis on his watch."Egypt Protests

Indeed. And past U.S. policy in the region has forced Obama to walk a tightrope.

Why President Mubarak is Important to American Interests

For his nearly 30 years in office, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak has been seen by all US administrations as a key ally in the region. Mubarak has been a U.S. partner in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, works with the United States against Islamist extremism, and has joined the U.S. in trying to contain Iran.   Under Mubarak, in 1995 Egypt became the USA’s first partner in the CIA’s controversial rendition program, providing a place for the CIA to torture terrorist suspects.

For these reasons, Egypt is the recipient of one of the largest amounts of annual US foreign aid (some $1.5 billion), most of it for military and other security programs.

Sorry Joe, Mubarak is a Dictator

In spite of what Vice-President Joe Biden thinks, Mubarak is a dictator. First, he has been Egypt’s ruler for nearly 30 years. That's right, since 1981. He never was elected. He was Anwar Sadat's handpicked Vice-President and succeeded to the Presidency when Sadat was assassinated. There was an election right after Sadat was killed, but that was merely to ratify Mubarak's succession.

Using the assassination as a power grab, Mubarak placed the country under a permanent state of emergency and expanded his powers as a result. Egypt has been ruled under the Emergency Law for the entire time. Even today, Mubarak’s police force arrests and detains citizens for what ever trumped up reason they want. They routinely torture prisoners. Though the rise of bloggers has undermined his efforts, Mubarak has been a fierce opponent of free speech.

Perhaps influenced by the uprisings in Tunisia, many Egyptians had enough of the dictator. Demonstrators calling for his removal clashed with riot police, firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Mubarak's regime has tried to squelch protestors' ability to communicate with each other by shutting down internet connections and cell phone service, but organizers still managed to rally thousands in the streets of Cairo.

Obama’s Dilemma

So now what should President Obama do? Should we protect our key ally, Mubarak, or we throw him under the bus, driven by the supporters of democracy?

Obama administration officials say they are not taking sides between President Hosni Mubarak, and the street protesters who purportedly represent a path to democracy in authoritarian Egypt. But the very assertion of “not taking sides” is departure of the all-out support traditionally given by Washington to the Egyptian strongman in recent decades.

Furthermore, some administration officials are thinking that for all the risks of losing a good ally in Mubarak, it might well be better to get “on the right side of history.” Perhaps this is why the administration is openly supporting demonstrations sweeping across the Arab Middle East, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Egyptian government to "respond to the legitimate needs" of its people.  

Some U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers have long harbored the view that corrupt, inept, and inefficient Arab friends simply cannot retain power forever.  Instead, they insist, the United States should support more democratic reforms in Egypt.

History’s Lessons

But those officials who think this way forget their history. When President George W. Bush made his push for democracy in Arab lands, he ended up with Hamas terrorists winning a democratic election and ruling the Gaza Strip. This “democratic” thinking also overlooks that Bush’s support for democracy in Lebanon opened the doors to power for the radical Hezbollah group.

Here is another history lesson of the region—the 1979 anti-Shah revolution in Iran started out with moderates in power, only to be pushed aside by the clerical radicals who still rule today.

History shows that when corrupt, autocratic regimes fall to street mobs, a pattern has emerged--moderates rule briefly, but are quickly removed by new dictators. Just remember the model of the Bolsheviks, a tiny group of extremely well organized communists, wresting control away from the great majority of discontented and disorganized Russians in 1917, paving the way for the despotic USSR to rise from the ashes of the Romanov Dynasty.

With this paradigm in mind, if Mubarak falls, the result will almost certainly be either a seizure of power by the Muslim Brotherhood or a military coup, both hardly desirable outcomes in Egypt, especially considering its strategic position on the Suez Canal.

If the Muslim Brotherhood takes control of Egypt, Israel will suddenly face an existential threat to its south and from Gaza, as well as a new Hezbollah-run Lebanon in the north.  That’s a nightmare scenario for Israel, and consequently, for its only major ally, the United States.

Maybe history has pushed our hand--- American Cold War policy also provides many parallels. Like the current “War on Terror”, during the Cold War, American Presidents often sided with dictators who opposed communism (instead of Islamic fundamentalism).

Sizing up  Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua's brutal (but pro-American) dictator, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt quipped, "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

Looks like President Obama shouldn’t throw the S.O.B. under the bus after all.

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com