In his news conference yesterday, Obama appeared to suggest that hundreds of protesters were not killed by the Mubarak regime in the last several weeks. Obama said,
“what has been true in Egypt is — should be true in Iran, which is that people should be able to express their opinions and their grievances and seek a more responsive government. What’s been different is the Iranian government’s response, which is to shoot people and beat people and arrest people. And, you know, my hope and expectation is, is that we’re going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government.”
This closely paralleled what I heard McCain say on Sunday. As he stepped out of the CBS studios, I was set to question him. Another reporter asked about Iran, and McCain said that in contrast to Egypt, Iran is a “more oppressive, repressive police state that knows no restrictions. We saw last time, they don’t hesitate to shoot and kill people in streets. Obviously, Egyptian military was not ready to do that.”
I corrected McCain in the course of asking him my question — “There were hundreds of killings at the hands of the police over the last two weeks, sir” — but he didn’t correct himself or apologize. See the video.
The facts are rather stark: in Iran, during the protests in 2009, Human Rights Watch documented about 10 people killed. In Egypt, since Janurary 25, there have been over 300.
I did ask McCain: “Do we owe the Egyptian people an apology for having backed a tyrant for 30 years?”
He replied: “Hindsight is 20/20. … There’s many ways this government has been helpful to us … I can’t apologize for what happened in Indonesia, for what happened in the Philippines, for what happened Romania.” Too bad, because apologizing might be the first step to bringing the dictator backing to a halt.
Obama claims: “But there are certain universal principles that we adhere to. One of them is, we don’t believe in violence as a way of — and coercion as a way of maintaining control.” Think for a moment about how that sounds to an Afghan who has had a loved one killed by a U.S. drone attack. Or a Palestinian who has been wounded by U.S.-backed Israeli occupiers. Or, for that matter, an Egyptian who knows the U.S. backed the Mubarak regime for decades.
Obama’s “universal values” have a way of not being universal. He loves talking about how bad Iran is, but he was asked twice about Saudi Arabia in his news conference yesterday — ie: “what concerns do you have about instability, especially in Saudi Arabia, as the demonstrations spread?” — and he didn’t mention the country. Compared to Saudi Arabia, Iran is a Jeffersonian paradise.
The dismissal of cheap blood is commonplace. Obama also gave George H W Bush the “Medal of Freedom.” Exactly twenty years ago, the elder Bush launched the Gulf War, leading to the direct killing of thousands, the devastating sanctions on Iraq for over a decade and a series of disasters that are still causing great suffering. Just this past weekend marks the 20 years since the US bombed the Amariyah Shelter. The voiceover in the White House ceremony that honored Bush said he “built a broad international coalition to expel a dictator from Kuwait” as well as how his “humility and his decency reflects the very best of the American spirit.”
Obama and McCain’s comments are just a symptom. Let’s hear the stories of the people who were killed by Mubarak’s thugs, not just the stories of a few U.S. journalists, or a Google executive who was in detention virtually the entire time.
I’ve also felt ill at ease with pictures of Egyptians, perhaps at the behest of the military now running the country, “cleaning” the blood of those killed in the protests. Seems to me it should be memorialized, not “cleaned.”
Certain victims are routinely invisible. It’s remarkable that the victims of Mubark’s thugs over the last several weeks — even while occasionally rhetorically celebrated — are among them.
SAM HUSSEINI is founder of WashingtonStakeout, his latest personal writings are at http://husseini.posterous.com