Saturday, March 19, 2011
Guest Opinon: Democracy in the Middle East - Is the Obama Administration “Fair and Equal”?
Paula Dierkens is a writer who asked to contribute a piece on the Middle East. The views are her own and do not reflect mine.
There were 18 days in the month of February this year when the world watched Egypt closely to see what would happen – some countries openly supported the people’s demands for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and a democratic government in his place, others like the US sat by and gaped silently because they were not sure which way the wind would blow. The Obama administration did issue statements from time to time that seemed to indicate that all they cared about was the Egyptian government’s degree of friendliness with the US. It’s no secret that Mubarak was an ideal choice for the US because he was not a hardcore Islamist even though Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country. And that is the very same reason why the US did not openly support the demand that Mubarak step down until it was apparent that the growing discontent and the hint of violence in the revolution meant that Mubarak leaving was the only way out.
And so Obama’s administration said they wanted a “peaceful and orderly transition” to the new democratic government. But with the army taking over for the interim and with strong signs pointing to the Muslim Brotherhood being significantly involved in any new government that would be formed after a supposedly “free and fair” election process, it’s doubtful if the US would enjoy the same amount of cordiality it did with Egypt during Mubarak’s reign. To the people of Egypt, Mubarak was a tyrant and a despot, but to countries like the US who depended on Egypt for their oil and for the safe passage of their military and trade vessels through the Suez Canal, he was a benign ally amidst the turmoil in the Middle East.
In the case of Iran however, the US administration has never really enjoyed any kind of friendship with this nation. And even though Obama hoped to improve relations with Iran when he took office by helping them break the impasse over their suspected nuclear program. But with the Iranian government rebuffing his administration, not much of a breakthrough has been achieved.
And now in the backdrop of the pro-democracy revolutions that are sweeping through the Middle East like a set of dominos, the US has issued a strong statement against the mass arrests and the intimidation of anti-government protestors and their families in Iran, calling on the government to fulfill its human rights obligations and allow the people to demonstrate peacefully for their demands of democracy.
There’s a direct contrast in the way the Obama administration responded to the crises in Egypt and Iran – in the former, there was a strained silence as they straddled the fence waiting to see which way the chips would fall before sliding down that side so they could save face; and in the latter, they know they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking a strong stand, and this is what they did. Both Egypt and Iran are fighting for their democratic rights, and the Obama administration showed that more than being in favor of democracy in the Middle East, it preferred to play favorites with the Egyptian government, at least for some time until it became very clear that Mubarak was going down, no matter what.