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Opinion

February 28, 2011

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Trailblazing weeks

Trailblazing weeks
People power has triumphed once again, and hounded dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, in this case another military one. It was people power alone which toppled Zine El Abedine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, both American protégés. Now Muammar Qaddafi appears to be on the way out.
Flashback to June 2005, when Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state of President George W Bush, swept through the Middle East to urge democratic change in the region and improve America’s image. In her keynote address at the American University in Cairo, she told 600 scholars and students: “We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.” Told that since the United States supported dictatorships for 60 years in the Middle East, what is the guarantee it will now support democracy? “For 60 years the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East—and we achieved neither,” Secretary Rice responded. “Now we are taking a different course.”
She declared that “millions of people are demanding freedom for themselves and democracies for their countries. To these courageous men and women, I say today: All free nations will stand with you as you secure the blessing of your own liberty.” She went on to say: “There was a time, not long ago, after all, when liberty was threatened by slavery. There was a time, even more recently, when liberty was threatened by colonialism... Today liberty is threatened by undemocratic governments. Some believe this is a permanent fact of life. But there are others who know better. Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberties. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy.”
“A hopeful future is within the reach of every citizen (in the Islamic world). The choice is yours to make. But you are not alone. All free nations are your allies.” A more powerful case for democracy in the Islamic world could not have been made out. But her words sounded so hollow, so hypocritical, so devoid of meaning. No wonder her address left people cold.
Flash forward to January 2011. When the protests began in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Mubarak’s government as one “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” Then came special envoy Frank Wisner who called for Mubarak to stay in power, saying: “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical.”
Why does US policy seem to be that democracy is good for Americans, Israelis, Afghans and Iraqis, yet dangerous for Egyptians and other people in the Middle East/North Africa region? For too many people in the Islamic world, especially Egyptians, it is becoming quite clear that the United States is conspiring with the regime in Cairo in its efforts to push only cosmetic reforms, while keeping the basic structure in power.
When millions of young students gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo, President Obama jettisoned America’s ideals and placed himself on the wrong side of history. He decided to side with the Pharaoh right to the end.
Many questions come to mind:
* Why did Obama react so slowly to the democratic revolution in Egypt?
* Why did he maintain support for Mubarak so long?
* Why did he move more cautiously in the present crisis than did President Reagan, who moved away from Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines?
* Why was President Obama so slow to embrace the young protestors in Cairo?
* Why President Obama didn’t come out more strongly on their side?
President Obama never found the voice to clearly endorse the Tahrir Square Revolution until it was all over. The ambivalent, almost nervous, carefully calculated US reaction to the Egyptian revolution underscored the hypocrisy of the United States in often backing dictators over democracy. Almost till the end, the Obama administration seemed more confident with the regime than with people power. America was on the wrong side of history when youthful Muslims and Christians were at the barricades fighting for liberty, rule of law, human dignity and end to dictatorship. It is now abundantly clear that, despite the democratic rhetoric, America had all along been decidedly on the side of Mubarak.
People all over the world watched with horror how, with American acquiescence, Mubarak attacked pro-democracy young protestors with “made in USA” teargas shells. President Obama provided Mubarak time to recover from the shock, and to mobilise and arm his thugs and gangsters whom he used with deadly effect in Tahrir Square against peaceful, unarmed protestors.
Once we thought this one-of-a-kind American president would do great things. In his inaugural address President Obama focused more on “soft power” and told the Muslim world that he wants “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” All that seems to have changed. Obama appears to have forgotten America as an idea, as a source of optimism and as a beacon of liberty. For more than two centuries, America was the cradle of liberty, the destination point for those who seek to live in freedom, and the source of inspiration for those who want to make their own countries as free as America itself. No longer. These days nobody would think of appealing to the United States for support in the upholding of liberty—maybe to Canada, to Norway or to Sweden, but not to the United States.
“For a nation that honours democracy and freedom the United States has a nasty habit of embracing foreign dictators when they seem to serve US interests. It is one of the least appealing traits of US foreign policy,” The New York Times wrote in an editorial back in 2002, under the title “Dancing with dictators.”
So, what are the lessons we in Pakistan should take away from Tahrir Square?
* The days of corrupt rulers who loot and plunder the resources of their countries are over.
* The days of American lackeys, puppets and running dogs who sacrifice national interest to please their handlers are over.
* The days of fraudulent democracy Potemkin political institutions, rubberstamp parliaments and corrupt, spineless presidents and prime ministers are over.
The political momentum now rests entirely with the people. They can smell the march of their own power. At last, people have found their life mission, something to fight for, something to die for: fight dictatorship, military or civilian. They have also found the tool to achieve this mammoth task: street demonstrations. I have lived to see millions of my people indignant and resolute in the streets of Islamabad, demanding with an irresistible voice rule of law, independence of judiciary, ruthless accountability, and end to high-level corruption. It remains to be seen if that voice of liberty would prove to be durable. It is now or never. One thing is clear. Change is going to come sooner than you expect—if we work for it, if we fight for it, if we believe in it.
There is no other path for our country but the one Egyptians and Tunisians took, and now the Libyans are treading. Let us follow their example.
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