Once again, Bush nostalgia

Oh, come on Saad Eddin Ibrahim, for God's sake:

When a billboard appeared outside a small Minnesota town early this year showing a picture of George W. Bush and the words "Miss me yet?" the irony was not lost on many in the Arab world. Most Americans may not miss Bush, but a growing number of people in the Middle East do. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unpopular in the region, but his ardent support for democracy was heartening to Arabs living under stalled autocracies. Reform activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and elsewhere felt empowered to press for greater freedoms during the Bush years. Unfortunately, Bush's strong support for democracy contrasts sharply with President Obama's retreat on this critical issue.

I understand Dr. Ibrahim has reasons to be grateful towards George W. Bush, who forcefully pressured the Egyptian government to release him when he was on trial in 2002-03. But he should remember that Bush's support evaporated in January 2006 after Hamas' electoral victory (and the Muslim Brothers' electoral advance in Egypt). What reform activists in Lebanon — surely this should be "March 14 partisans", who for the most part did not seem very interested in democratic reform and are quite committed to Lebanon's twisted sectarian system, even if they rightly opposed Syrian interference in their own affairs. More reform activists in Egypt were anti-Bush. I could go on about "reform activists."

Also, no need to cite elections over 2005-06 as proof of reform. Egypt's were deeply flawed. The CIA funded Fatah's campaign in Palestine. Most of these elections were already scheduled — Bush did not order them to be held! There are other problems with the piece, but I'll stop here on the details. Ibrahim concludes:

Democracy and human rights advocates in the Middle East listened with great anticipation to Obama's speech in Cairo. Today, Egyptians are not just disappointed but stunned by what appears to be outright promotion of autocracy in their country. What is needed now is a loud and clear message from the United States and the global community of democracies that the Egyptian people deserve free, fair and transparent elections. Congress is considering a resolution to that effect for Uganda. Such a resolution for Egypt is critical given the immense U.S. support for Egypt. Just as we hope for a clear U.S. signal on democracy promotion, we must hope that the Obama administration will cease its coddling of dictators.

This is ill thought out. Obama has actually this year taken a few steps towards pressuring Egypt.

1. The US expressed disappointment over the renewal of the Emergency Law in May, which is more than the EU, which unbelievably put out the following crap under French and Italian pressure:

"I note Egypt's decision to limit the new State of Emergency to fighting terrorism and its financing and drug-related crimes. However, I strongly encourage the government to speed up the steps needed for the adoption of an antiterrorism law compliant with international human rights standards as soon as possible, noting the government's commitment to this goal in the EU/Egypt Action plan and in other forums".

"Note"? As in, "I note you're not wearing glasses today"? Pathetic.

2. Vice President Joe Biden raised the UNHCR's Universal Periodic Review of Egypt with Mubarak. At least there's a sign they're talking about it.

3. The State Dept. has called for an investigation into the death of Khaled Said. The day after that, a new investigation was ordered.

Bottom line: there's been a slight improvement since last year, but it could go much further. Rather than aping a Congressional resolution on Uganda Ibrahim could have called for specific measures, such as: the imposition of conditionalities for the disbursement of aid and the negotiation of any endowment for Egypt, sending messages that arms sales are conditional on freer elections after the disaster of the recent Shura Council elections, and holding to the Egyptian government to account on its claim that the Emegency Law will only be used in drug and terrorism cases. 

Ibrahim had a chance at making a much stronger case with specific recommendations. Claims of "Bush nostalgia" won't win friends in the Obama administration — just among the Washington Post's neoconservative editorial board.

Links for 08.19.09 to 08.20.09

Saad Eddin Ibrahim: President Obama Maintains Status Quo with Egypt - WSJ.com | Saad Eddin Ibrahim on Obama. ✪ Quiet slicing of the West Bank makes abstract prayers for peace obscene | Slavoj Zizek | Comment is free | The Guardian | A good piece on Israel/Palestine by Zizek unfortunately ends weakly by talking about terrorism. As if the crimes of terrorists were comparable to the erasing of Palestine over 60 years. ✪ Hosni In The House Hosni In The House | Project on Middle East Democracy | Good collection of links on Mubarak's trip to Washington and the Egyptian predicament. ✪ FT.com / Comment / Analysis - Confusion over Cairo | Good long piece on Egypt on a range of issues. ✪ FT.com / Comment / Editorial - Mubarak’s return to Washington | What I like about the FT is that, unlike most, it's not afraid to call a spade a spade: "The national security regime, with its backbone in the army and its nervous system in the intelligence services, is incapable of adapting politically. Sincere attempts by successive governments to liberalise keep on hitting this wall of vested interests, reinforced by layers of businessmen operating under state patronage. Respectable economic growth has opened up huge wealth disparities, with food rioters and conspicuous consumers sitting cheek by scowling jowl in Egypt’s teeming cities. Behind it all lies the debris of ideological bankruptcy." ✪ Arabic explained (for Arabic speakers) - The National Newspaper | On mo3jam.com, the Arabic vernacular translator. ✪ Democracy In Egypt: Necessary Ingredient in a U.S.-Egyptian Partnership - Brookings Institution | Michele Dunne and Tamara Coffman-Wittes urge the Obama administration to make democracy an important issue in the Egypt-US relationship. Note that Coffman-Wittes was recently mentioned as a possible DAS for Middle Eastern democracy. ✪ Obama huddles with Egypt's Mubarak | The briefing Obama and Mubarak gave at the White House. Mubarak says reform issues were discussed and that he still had two years to implement his 2005 reformist program, and that on the peace process move should be straight to final status. Obama praises Mubarak in several respects, welcomes Israel's pseudo-freeze of settlements, says Arabs must now give something. Otherwise nothing interesting.
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