Thursday, June 03, 2010

My comment on the Adam Shatz Egypt essay

The original post.

Mubarak’s Last Breath

Adam Shatz writes that Egyptians ‘fear that they will never know democracy because of the “American veto”’ (LRB, 27 May). It’s true that the US has been a less than enthusiastic backer of Egyptian political reform during the Mubarak years, but it’s still worth pointing out a few important, and indeed hopeful nuances of US policy. As Shatz notes, Mubarak managed to circumvent American pressure to democratise, thanks in part to Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, which took the wind from the sails of George W. Bush’s quixotic quest for democratic reform. After 2006, regime insiders relaxed, gloating that they ‘knew how to handle the US’. Yet Obama has proved far harder for Mubarak and his cronies to read. Gone is the two aspirins at bedtime Bush prescription for democracy, but it isn’t business as usual either. Obama has kept Mubarak at arm’s length, notably deflecting the Egyptian president’s offer to introduce him at his speech in Cairo in June 2009. When Obama spoke, he walked to the podium to the cadence of ‘Hail to the Chief’, and Mubarak was nowhere in sight – a marked contrast with his speech two months earlier in Ankara, where he addressed the Turkish parliament and was introduced by the Speaker. As many Egyptians remarked, the Cairo speech gave no comfort to Mubarak and his fellow kleptocrats. In another sign of a sterner, less tolerant US tone, Hillary Clinton has assailed the Egyptian government for its recent extension of the Emergency Law. This suggests a more skilful approach than in the Bush years, one that might help restore some vibrancy to Egypt’s dismal politics.

Augustus Richard Norton
Boston University

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