When the news first broke that there were hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators marching on Tahrir Square in Cairo demanding the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, I was thrilled. Did this mean that the type of popular revolt which had brought down the authoritarian government of Tunisia was spreading and might soon engulf other Arab countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa resulting in the collapse of authoritarian regimes such as those found in Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen? Were we witnessing the beginning of a new, more democratic world disorder? Nothing could be farther from the truth.
During the first two or three days of the unrest the Obama administration gave off very mixed signals as to where its true loyalties lay in Egypt. Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed that our staunch ally Mubarak was no dictator. While acknowledging the right of peaceable protest, President Barack Obama seemed to be much more concerned with preserving our relationship with a trusted ally rather than supporting the protesters. With her mindless political doublespeak about Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes one wonder whether she represents the Second Coming of Madeleine Albright. She and the former Secretary of State not only sound alike on Egypt, but they dress alike too.
Regrettably, the Empire has now spoken with one voice. The fix is in, and the Tahrir Square demonstrations may have been much ado about nothing.
It is now apparent that the White House has three primary policy objectives in Egypt. First, and foremost, Israeli security must be preserved at all cost. That is our number one priority. Second, we must allay any fears which our authoritarian Arab allies may have of possible abandonment by the United States. We will remain loyal to even the most repressive of these Arab states come hell or high water. Third, while pretending to be sympathetic to the pleas of the anti-government demonstrators for freedom and democracy, our objective is to restore the status quo in Egypt as soon as possible. The Empire intends to remain in charge.
The 1978 Camp David Accords serve as the bedrock on which the Egyptian, Israeli, American relationship is based today. Under these accords, bought and paid for by the United States, Egypt agreed to not invade Israel, serve as a security buffer between Israel and the Arab world, and provide Israel with half of its natural gas. All of this costs the United States $1.5 billion annually in mostly military aid to Egypt. Israel receives $3 billion in U.S. aid each year. President Mubarak has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Camp David Accords for three decades.
Needless to say, the Israelis were overjoyed to learn that pro Israeli, former Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman had been named vice president by Mubarak. This means that the Egyptian-Israeli security relationship remains intact.
If Obama had pulled the plug on Mubarak, this would have created a wave of panic among Arab petrosheiks in Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. As we know all too well, oil always trumps freedom and democracy in the eyes of the White House.
The groundwork is now being laid by Vice President Suleiman to co-opt the leaderless, anti-government protesters. He has begun holding a series of meetings with dissidents including the Muslim Brotherhood and Nobel laureate Mohamed El-Baradei. It remains to be seen what concessions will be granted to Egypt’s political defectors by the so-called transition team of Mubarak.
Just as American television networks oversold the impact of the Egyptian protest movement, so too did they overstate the effectiveness of the Internet in the Tahrir Square revolution. For starters, only twenty-one percent of the Egyptian people even have Internet access. Ironically, on the day in which the size of the protest crowd reached its peak, all Internet service in Egypt had been shut down.
In 1989 the communist regimes of six of the Soviet Union’s allies in Eastern Europe collapsed within a few months of each other, five of them nonviolently. And all of this was accomplished without the Internet. But unlike the situation in Egypt, the anti-communist movements in Eastern Europe had some very charismatic, effective leaders such as Lech Walesa in Poland and Va’clav Havel in Czeckoslovakia. Some of the Eastern European freedom movements were extremely well organized and had been around for nearly a decade. Such was not the case in Egypt. There was no political culture of dissent.
The leaderless Egyptian protest movement did succeed in creating a temporary power vacuum while the White House dithered. Unfortunately, within a week that vacuum had been filled.
The one inescapable conclusion from the Egyptian crisis is that, the Empire is alive and well. So too is its relationship with Israel.
THOMAS H. NAYLOR is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University. His books include: Downsizing the U.S.A., Affluenza, The Search for Meaning and The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education