Dear Western Leaders: Please shut up

By Mike Tudoreanu

The peoples of the Arab world are rising. It started in Tunisia, spread to Egypt, and there are rumblings of discontent in Yemen, Jordan and Sudan. Corrupt dictators, who have ignored the needs of the many and pandered to the interests of big business for decades, finally have reason to be afraid. One of them, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, has already fled his sinking ship. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak seems determined to go down fighting, and take as many innocent lives as possible with him. In Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh quickly announced that he will quit later this year, and the protests have only just begun. All three of them have ruled for over 20 years – almost 30 in Mubarak’s case. The King of Jordan is also looking worried. Saudi Arabia is quiet at the moment, but the amazingly rich – and amazingly repressive – House of Saud is probably concerned about the family business.

Democracy is coming to the Middle East, and it looks like secular democracy. Young Arabs do not seem to share the West’s obsession with political Islam, and religion is no more than a background issue at best. Islamic extremists exist, but they were caught by surprise and left in the dust. Egyptian Muslims and Christians are marching in the streets side by side.

Western leaders have been talking about stuff like this for years. One would expect them to be overjoyed at the prospect of a democratic Middle East. But instead, they look concerned and somber. They call for “stability,” not freedom or democracy. The problem, you see, is that most of the endangered dictators are their friends. Mubarak alone receives $1.5 billion in US military aid every year.

Some Western leaders have made clear where their sympathies lie, and it’s not with the people of Egypt. Joe Biden said in a recent interview that he doesn’t think Mubarak is a dictator. That’s right: a man who has been president for 30 years and was, until recently, planning to hand over power to his son; a man who relies on a brutal secret police; a man who keeps “winning” elections just as free as the ones that used to be “won” by Saddam Hussein; a man who routinely imprisons people who speak out against him – this man is not a dictator.

Why is that again?

Because, in Joe Biden’s own words, “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region, Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel.” So, apparently, being a friend of the US automatically makes you okay no matter how often you send your thugs to beat up or kill innocent people.

Even worse were the comments of Tony Blair. Just this Wednesday, he actually had the audacity to say that Mubarak is “extremely courageous and a force for good.” Now, bear in mind, this is Tony Blair we’re talking about, the second most enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War. The former British Prime Minister who said he had to send troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein despite massive anti-war protests, because removing a dictator was the right thing to do. Now he sings the praises of a different dictator and compliments him on his great courage – presumably the courageous way he decided to repress the protesters calling for his resignation. I used to think Tony Blair had misguided principles, now I see he has no principles at all.

The hypocrisy of Western leaders is utterly shocking. Tyrants who oppose the interests of Western capitalism are evil dictators who must be removed by force in the name of justice and freedom. If some people get killed in the process, well, that’s just collateral damage. Tyrants who support the interests of Western capitalism, on the other hand, are responsible and courageous forces for good, and totally not dictators. When people rise up against them to demand affordable food and fewer jackboots in their faces, well, that’s just rude. You see, it’s oh so very destabilizing when you topple a dictator- sorry, I mean a courageous leader. Before you know it, there might be free elections, and that means we don’t know who’s going to win! It might be anyone! Imagine that.

Sarcasm aside, can you imagine what would have happened if people were protesting on the streets of Iran instead of Egypt? Actually, you don’t need to imagine, it happened last year. Predictably, Western leaders immediately called for democracy and the resignation of Ahmadinejad – who does count as a dictator, apparently, even though he has far less power than Mubarak.

It is now clear as day that the only things Western politicians care about are their own interests, and they are equally willing to support a democracy or a brutal dictatorship as long as it is self-serving. The fact that these people can support Mubarak (or the House of Saud for that matter) while fighting wars for “democracy” elsewhere is frankly sickening. Western leaders have completely lost any right to talk about democracy anywhere in the world.

Mike Tudoreanu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]