Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Will the West Stand Up for What's Right in Egypt?

Will the West Stand Up for What's Right in Egypt?
By Tamir Moustafa Reposted from The Mark News

The events of the past six days in Egypt are unprecedented. After 30 years of authoritarian rule under President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians have taken to the streets to confront his regime. This moment poses a critical test for the Harper and Obama administrations. Stated support for democracy and human rights must be backed by an immediate call for Mubarak to step down and give way to free and fair elections.

Although successive Canadian and U.S. administrations have paid lip service to democracy and human rights in the Middle East, more often than not they have prioritized “stability” over all else. In the case of the United States in particular, this stability has been offered in the form of billions of dollars in foreign aid (much of it military aid) each year. This political, economic, and military support has strengthened the hand of a dictator against his own people. For three decades, the Mubarak regime has manipulated elections, repressed pro-democracy activists, and jailed and tortured dissidents with impunity.

Now that Egyptians have pulled back the curtain of fear and taken to the streets, it’s time for the Harper and Obama administrations to decide which side they are on: that of the regime, or that of the people of Egypt. Thus far, both the Canadian and U.S. governments have issued bland statements in support of political reform, but they have not forcefully asked for Mubarak’s regime to give way to a new political order. Instead, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon has issued a statement saying that “Canada calls on all parties to remain calm and to continue to respect freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” Mr. Cannon, you will need to do better than that.

Timing is critical. The army has rolled its tanks onto the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez, but thus far the military has not defined its role. Will it ultimately back Mubarak, or will it follow the model of the Tunisian military and ask Mubarak to leave the country? Only time will tell, but this conversation is likely happening among the senior officer corps at present.

In this context, the international community can make a difference. If the Harper and Obama administrations unequivocally call on Mubarak to resign and give way to free and fair elections, it may shape how the military defines its own role. Mubarak’s regime must be discredited in the international community, just as it has been denounced so forcefully at home. After decades of complicity, it is time for the Canadian and U.S. governments to take a stand, and position themselves on the right side of history.