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Commentary: Egypt lecturing US on democratic principles...?
Published on July 4, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

Imagine that.

Actually, I’ve been lamenting every vindicating episode arising out of the following warning I gave in the germinating days of the Arab Spring:

With all due respect to the protesters, the issue is not whether Mubarak will go, for he will. (The man is 82 and already looks half dead for Christ’s sake!) Rather, the issue is who will replace him. And it appears they have not given any thought whatsoever to this very critical question.

The devil Egyptians know might prove far preferable to the devil they don’t. Just ask the Iranians who got rid of the Mubarak-like Shah in 1979 only to end up with the Ayatollah -- whose Islamic revolution they’ve regretted (and have longed to overturn) ever since….

(“Army Pledges No Force Against Protesters,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2011)

Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at
Frankly, I would bet my life savings that the vast majority of Egyptians who got rid of Mubarak now regret doing so, and are now sheepishly longing for his relatively benign dictatorship. After all, they have since had to cope with a president in Mohammad Morsi, who fashioned himself a latter-day pharaoh lording over an Islamic state (i.e., instead of the secular state they clearly prefer), and now with one in Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who replaced Morsi in a military coup last year and is fashioning himself as a prototypical Arab strongman presiding over a veritable police state.

In fact, nothing has given democracy protesters cause to rue the day they overthrew Mubarak quite like the way al-Sisi is labeling all of his political opponents Muslim terrorists to justify having them rounded up, by the thousands, and sentenced to death after mass show trials….

But I suppose it betrays shrewd political judgment that, instead of having the famous “al-Jazeera 3″ journalists arrested and sentenced to death too, al-Sisi had them sentenced last week to 7-10 years in prison. Never mind that their only “crime” was reporting on al-Sisi’s totalitarian rule in ways he deemed were giving aid and comfort to his terrorist bogeymen.

And, talk about being shrewd, only this explains al-Sisi seizing the opportunity to lecture an American president, using the same words about the principles of democracy (in this case, an independent judiciary) that American presidents have been using to lecture Arab leaders like him for decades:

The future of three ‘al-Jazeera’ journalists jailed in Egypt looks bleaker after Egypt’s strongman president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, refused a pardon, ignoring pleas from Barack Obama to release them and other political prisoners.

‘We will not interfere in judicial rulings,’ Sisi said on Tuesday morning. ‘We must respect judicial rulings and not criticise them even if others do not understand this.’

(London Guardian, June 23, 2014)


Notwithstanding his plainly mischievous indignation, I applaud al-Sisi for publicly reprimanding Obama.

Granted, Obama was merely asking him to use his legitimate presidential power to pardon these journalists. But it’s worth noting why al-Sisi was able to so effectively insinuate that Obama was exhorting him to do something as president of Egypt that Obama would be impeached for doing as president of the United States. Because this hints at what US presidents have been doing since time immemorial; namely, publicly lecturing their despotic friends about implementing democratic reforms, while privately exhorting them to execute all kinds of dictatorial favors to further US interests.

Apropos of which, even the US-backed prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, publicly lectured Obama last week about democratic principles as he defiantly rejected Obama’s call for Iraq to form a new government of national unity, which does not include him as the divisive, sectarian prime minister. Specifically, al-Maliki decried the call as an imperial attempt to impose a coup against his democratically elected government and an affront to Iraq’s democratic constitution.

Again, imagine that.

But this rejection is all the more humiliating for Obama given that his call was tied to sending in US troops to help al-Maliki fend off ISIS/ISIL insurgents.

Because al-Maliki is effectively emulating Thomas Paine, that oft-cited pioneer of American democracy, by saying that he’d rather lose Iraq to Islamic terrorists than conspire with Obama to pervert its democratic process. And I think he means it (i.e., like Bashir al-Assad of Syria, al-Maliki believes he’s the democratically elected leader of his country and will not abide the formation of any government of national unity that does not leave him in place as prime minister).

In any event, I would like to think this is a case of an American-friendly dictator (in Egypt) hoisting an American president up by his own petard. But I suspect that, after a suitable period of opportunistic political posturing, al-Sisi will honor Obama’s request and pardon the journalists … and only because two of them happen to be Westerners.

NOTE: Obama is purportedly asking al-Sisi to release political prisoners too. But, trust me, American presidents asking Egyptian presidents to release political prisoners is rather like American presidents asking Israeli prime ministers to stop building Jewish settlements: the asking in both cases is only ever for political show.

Related commentaries:
Arab spring spawns military dictatorship

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