Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Dear Western Leaders: Please shut up

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].

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  • K

    KrisSep 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    LOL @ People who said the Muslim Brotherhood was insignificant.

  • A

    AJFeb 11, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Also, “Arafat,” you should be aware that the United States government is the single most powerful organization on the planet, with funds, manpower and resources vastly superior to anything that could be mustered by all possible enemies combined. The idea that the Muslim Brotherhood can pose a significant threat to the US is beyond laughable, and the only reason anyone pays any attention to the paranoid delusions of fear-mongers is because they provide a great excuse to bleed the taxpayers dry to fund the Pentagon, the CIA, and mass murdering dictators across the world.

  • A

    AJFeb 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Given that the Muslim Brotherhood is not leading the protests or playing any significant role whatsoever, given that it seems to be losing support rather than gaining it, and given that all the people in the streets have called for democracy, human rights and social justice, I don’t see why we should give a damn what the Brotherhood said “in their own words.” The Muslim Brotherhood is not the Egyptian people, and you need to stop defending tyranny.

  • A

    ArafatFeb 11, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    The Muslim Brotherhood? In their own words as opposed to the words of some know-it-all college wanker.

  • J

    JohnFeb 11, 2011 at 11:24 am

    250 years ago, all Christian countries banned criticism of Christianity, had strict punishments for blasphemy and heresy (up to and including death), persecuted Jews, and absolutely did not allow anyone to openly admit being gay. Some of them also practiced slavery.

    So, if you lived back then, would you have said that the people of those countries needed to “free themselves from the shackles of Christianity” before they could have democracy?

  • A

    ArafatFeb 10, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    The only way for the people of the Middle East (all of Islam for that matter) to experience true democracy is to free themselves from the shackles of Islam.
    Islam and democracy are incompatible and anyone who says Indonesia is an example they are simply showing just how dire Islamic democracies are.
    Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Oman, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kirgizstan, etc…
    Name one country from this or any list of Islamic dominated countries where one can freely criticize Islam, convert from Islam, proselytize for any other religion, draw pictures of Mohammed, criticize Saudi Arabia, openly practice homosexuality or Judaism, be a free woman with all this implies.
    So please don’t blame Egypt’s problems on America. I would bet money that if America could foster true democracy in any Muslim country it would, just as it fostered freedoms and democracy in Germany and Japan after WWII.
    Quit blaming their problems on anyone but them and their backwards-looking religion.
    Finally, let me say, Mohammed was Islam’s first political leader. He refused to acknowledge a separation of mosque and state as Jesus did (Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…). Mohammed was a theocratic despot who killed, raped, enslaved and pillaged his way to power and wealth.
    This is who Muslims look to for direction, no? Not to America, but to Mohammed and therein lies the tale of the tape.

  • A

    AJFeb 10, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Ben, Muslims don’t agree on the contents of sharia. Most Muslims do indeed believe that there is a set of religious laws called “sharia” that they should follow, but they have very different opinions on what exactly those laws are. The kind of extreme reactionary rules you mentioned (punishing rape victims, cutting off hands for stealing) are part of the SALAFI version of sharia. The Salafi sect (also called Wahhabi) is a type of fundamentalist Sunni Islam with great influence in Saudi Arabia and Somalia, but very little support in Egypt. Also, being Sunni, the Salafi sect hates Iran, which is Shia.

    Asking Muslims if they support sharia is like asking Christians if they believe in the Bible. Of course they do. But just like Christians have a thousand different factions and sects with different views on what the Bible says, so Islam has a thousand different versions of sharia.

    What you’re doing is like reading a fundamentalist Christian website and then concluding that all Christians believe in that. Or like saying that all Christians agree with Christian terrorist groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. It is ignorant and ridiculous.

    You say that you don’t oppose democracy in Egypt. But what exactly do you support, then? You sure sound like you support the continuation of the Mubarak regime – and since Mubarak is a brutal dictator, if you support him that means you oppose democracy.

    You claim to be worried that the Muslim Brotherhood might take power by force and impose a new dictatorship, but that is absurdly far-fetched right now. The two main forces in Egypt are (1) Mubarak and his thugs, and (2) people in the streets asking for democracy and social justice. Both of these forces are opposed to the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood itself hasn’t actually done anything other than jumping on the protest bandwagon (late in the game) and trying really hard not to look irrelevant. How exactly do you expect them to take power? They might have some chance of doing well in elections, but taking power by force? No way. They don’t have nearly enough force at their disposal.

    So, given that the current fight is between Mubarak and the people, I support the people. Whose side are you on?

  • G

    Gary LaponFeb 9, 2011 at 9:35 am

    @Ben: the idea that the people involved in this movement want Sharia law is absurd, if you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on on the ground. People change quickly during a revolution, so a poll from 2008 is irrelevant today.

    This past weekend, there was joint prayer between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Tahrir Square to honor the people who’ve been killed by Mubarak’s people in Egypt, and a common sign in the protests combines the Crescent and Cross, calling for unity across religious lines. This has from the beginning been a movement for democracy. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood is not a radical organization with authority like the Mullahs in Iran. It’s a totally different situation.

    In any case, it’s up to the Egyptian people to decide what happens in their country, as you (?) seem to agree with.

    On another note, it’s funny that you end your post complaining about how you didn’t have a chance to vote to take away others’ civil rights (same sex marriage). It’s ironic because as you go on about your fears of religious fundamentalists taking over, you’re complaining (I assume, and I’m confident in that, that you’re against gay marriage, as the “Let the People Vote” campaign was) that you didn’t get a chance to vote to deny a group of people civil rights as part of a campaign against LGBT people itself rooted in religious/”moral” intolerance and extremism.

    Also, to the above poster, on the choice of calling out Blair and Biden. These are still important Western leaders, as Leni has pointed out. Biden is actually speaking with Omar Suleiman (a notorious torturer under Mubarak), who is the US pick to oversee the “transition to democracy” (read: to the next dictatorship) and is in effective control in Egypt right now. So Biden is at the heart of this process still. If he was actually speaking against Obama’s policy, this didn’t bother Obama enough to remove him from his vital role in all of this. Given the weight of the crisis for the US’s imperial interests, it’s more likely that Biden’s mistake was revealing Obama’s actual policy in too clear a way. Obama has not called for Mubarak to go, cut off aid despite the deaths of 300+ by US weapons, and has called for an “orderly transition” which is diplomatic-speak for shuffling the cards at the top while retaining the core dictatorial Egyptian state apparatus.

    And Blair is not chilling on a resort island somewhere in retirement. He is actually a Special Envoy for the Quartet (the UN, US, Russia, and EU), which focuses on the Middle East, hence what he says on this matter carries weight, and Mihnea was correct in quoting him.

  • B

    BenFeb 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    “If they want sharia – a big IF – then they should have sharia.”

    They do. That is what they want. So if a woman is raped, she needs four male witnesses to testify on her behalf. Otherwise, she is executed because she had sex outside of the confines of marriage! Yes, that’s what Sharia is–executing rape victims for their immoral behavior. It’s chopping off hands for the crime of stealing. It’s forcing non-Muslims to pay a dhimmi tax and live with no political rights at all. It’s endless war with non-believers.

    Sharia is not compatible with democracy. Here is why the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists cannot tolerate democracy. Islam is a total system for life, not just a religion. It provides the answers to all of life’s questions. Contained within it is a code of law and government, called Sharia. Sharia is not debatable, not to be improved upon, and requires no human input. Islamists will not tolerate democracy because it permits people to adopt laws that might be at odds with Sharia. The Islamist argument against democracy goes something like this: “If we had democracy, the majority could simple vote to allow women to drive cars! If we had democracy, the majority could simply vote not to execute homosexuals!” In other words, if we had democracy, the majority could simply vote to disobey Allah. And Islamists will tolerate any such thing.

  • B

    BenFeb 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    AJ, let me respond to a few things you said. I don’t think you understood what I was saying. You seemed to assume a number of things I did NOT say. Perhaps you really want to have a good faith argument. So here goes.

    “…the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t leading the protests. Far from it. They didn’t even join until long after there were thousands of people in the streets.”

    So that means that they can’t emerge from this as the new leaders of Egypt? Because they were late to the game? Even if I assume that your facts are correct, your logic certainly is not. In any case, the Muslim Brotherhood has been trying to topple of the government of Egypt since the Brotherhood has existed, and they really turned it up a notch after the peace treaty with Israel in 1977. So, they may have showed up late to these particular protests, but this is their strategic longterm goal. And yes, they are the most likely successors to Mubarak.

    “You may *think* the Muslim Brotherhood is going to win if free elections are held…”

    No. I never said that. Who said anything about the Muslim Brotherhood winning an election? I predict that they will take power by force, perhaps promising elections at a later date and then never delivering. Much like the Cuban Revolution of 1959 or Russian Revolution of 1917. You continue to suggest that I’m afraid of elections because I’m afraid of the results. Not true. What I’m saying is that the most likely successor to Mubarak doesn’t have a democratic bone in its body, and it is therefor unlikely that we are seeing democracy and freedom blooming in Egypt.

    “There’s no way anyone can know that.” I agree. I don’t have ESP, and neither do you. We can only make the best predicitions we can with the information we have at this point. The question is who comes next? I hope I’m wrong, but I think that the Muslim Brotherhood is the most likely. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a nightmare for peace, human rights, democracy, and freedom. They believe in none of these things. They want war and domination. So if you’re okay with that, keep on keepin’ on.

    “See, the thing about dictators like Mubarak is that they don’t allow any unbiased opinion polls to be held, so we have absolutely no idea how much support the Muslim Brotherhood actually has.”

    I doubt this quite a bit. We do know what percentage of Egyptians support Sharia–64% think Sharia should be the only source of law. An additional 24% think that it should be one source among others. That’s from a Gallup poll, July 2008.

    “We don’t know who would win if free elections were held in Egypt tomorrow.”

    Again, I’m NOT arguing against free elections in Egypt! Where did I ever say such a thing? This is the ultimate straw man.

    “What would you say if people from China or Europe decided that Americans don’t deserve free elections because we might choose the “wrong” president or the “wrong” kinds of laws? Wouldn’t you be outraged?” Straw man #2. I never said that the US government should be doing anything in this mess. I simply said that it’s okay to ask questions about what comes next for Egypt. The author of this post seems perturbed that anyone doubts the euphoria of democracy in Egypt. I doubt very much that Egypt will take a single step closer to democracy.

    Yes, I would be pissed if the people of China interceded to prevent an election here. But I’m not suggesting that we do the same in Egypt, and neither is the US government under Obama. Obama wants Mubarak out, it’s just a question of when.

    And another thing. My state government prevented me from voting on same-sex “marriage” because they were afraid we wouldn’t make the “right” decision. The same-sex marriage crowd in California tried the same trick to take the question off the ballot. They lost. After the election happened and Prop 8 won, they got a homosexual federal judge to overturn the voters’ decision. So I’m quite accustomed to being told that we can have democracy so long as we make the “right” decision. It’s a sham, I know. Let’s start practicing some democracy here before we worry about Egypt.

  • L

    LeniFeb 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Jack, this article is a rant? Whatever you believe, it’s called an “op-ed” for a reason. That’s short for opinion editorial genius. It doesn’t have to be fact, even though this one clearly is.

    A Western leaders isn’t necessarily someone currently in power. Even former leaders have clout and can easily sway opinion. All of them should be choosing their words carefully during this time.

    When it comes down to it, it’s utterly naive to discredit the stake American interests have in the decisions our government, and other governments, make. Greed powers all of these foreign decisions. Choosing to push those facts to the wayside is either side-stepping or pure ignorance.

  • J

    JackFeb 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    This article is a rant, and it’s not factual. The two leaders he quotes are Biden and Blair? Biden’s remarks were instantly disowned by the White House and hasn’t been heard from since, and Blair has been out of power for four years and is politically discredited in Britain. As for Western leaders always propping up pro-capitalist dictators, that too is absurd. Western sanctions were almost as vital as internal civil resistance in ending the apartheid state in South Africa, Western diplomats helped undermine Pinochet when he tried to hold onto power in Chile in the face of popular resistance before he lost a plebiscite, and it’s Chinese capitalist investment in Burma that props up that tyranny. You don’t have to be an apologist or an opponent of the US to recognize that those who are serious about pushing for genuine democracy can be found on both sides of the old ideological divide. The late Olaf Palme in Sweden and Willy Brandt in Germany were socialists, but they were passionate proponents of human rights — as, by the way, is Barack Obama, whose threat to withhold military aid from Egypt has helped encourage its military to refrain from repression against the movement there. The author of this piece is trying to impose outdated left-right polarities on a world that is quickly unshackling itself from them. I hear no calls for either capitalism or socialism in the streets of Cairo. I hear only calls for rights and freedom.

  • L

    LeniFeb 7, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    “America’s interests” truly have nothing to do with supporting democracy for others and promoting the common good. Foreign policy is just a guise for promoting the interests of our nation’s wealthiest citizens, no matter who it hurts. Anyone negatively affected is viewed as collateral damage, even the American people. That’s greed for you.

    The threat from the Muslim Brotherhood has been greatly exaggerated thus far. Most Egyptians would prefer another opposition candidate for president and do not support the Muslim Brotherhood taking over the government of Egypt. I think the Egyptian people are smart enough to know they don’t want an Iran situation where their country is a theocracy. And it certainly doesn’t strike me, based on how all religions have banned together during this time, that the people are interested oppressing anyone.

  • A

    AJFeb 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Ben, the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t leading the protests. Far from it. They didn’t even join until long after there were thousands of people in the streets.

    You may *think* the Muslim Brotherhood is going to win if free elections are held, but there’s no way you can know that. There’s no way anyone can know that. See, the thing about dictators like Mubarak is that they don’t allow any unbiased opinion polls to be held, so we have absolutely no idea how much support the Muslim Brotherhood actually has.

    We don’t know who would win if free elections were held in Egypt tomorrow. Just like we don’t know who will win the elections in the US in 2012. What would you say if people from China or Europe decided that Americans don’t deserve free elections because we might choose the “wrong” president or the “wrong” kinds of laws? Wouldn’t you be outraged?

    We don’t know what will happen next in Egypt, because it’s not up to us to decide that. It’s up to the Egyptian people. If they want sharia – a big IF – then they should have sharia. If they want something else, they should have that instead.

  • D

    DariaFeb 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    So what should the US do then? Not have its best interests in mind?

  • B

    BenFeb 7, 2011 at 11:30 am

    “Democracy is coming to the Middle East, and it looks like secular democracy.”

    Uh…where are you getting that from? Are you completely blind to the Muslim Brotherhood? Surely, you aren’t denying that they are the most ruthless and most organized constituency, that they are the most likely succesor of Mubarik?

    Poll after poll shows that Egyptians want Sharia law. And they will get it. That’s not secular democracy. (By the way, people said the same thing about the Iranian revolution)

    Also, the Biden quote you use is at odds with what his boss is saying. It’s basically at odds with the entire administration. Obama, Clinton, they all support an Islamist victory in Egypt. They don’t care about the consequences. So you’re wrong.

    “They call for “stability,” not freedom or democracy” Yeah, that’s cause neither of those things is coming. Sharia and theocracy are more like it.

    “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.”

    You’re right that protest in Iran happened last year. And guess what? Our president didn’t call for Ahmadinejad to step down the way he’s called for Mubarik to step down! Who were these “western leaders” who called for the resignation of Ahmadinejad? I’m not saying that there weren’t any, but I would say that there are plenty of Western leaders who are also calling for Mubarik’s resignation.

    The point is that there are legitimate reasons to worry about what comes next. You have to ask yourself who’s behind these riots (and they are riots) in Egypt, and what they want to do when they seize power. You seem almost angry that people are even asking these questions. Just celebrate “freedom” and “democracy”, don’t worry about what happens next!!!

  • E

    EllynFeb 7, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Mihnea, I whole-heartedly agree with everything said in this article. The hypocrisy of the US is undeniable; we are all for democracy–but only on OUR terms.

    You are truly a wordsmith amongst journalists. 🙂

  • J

    Jibbs MckibblesFeb 7, 2011 at 12:05 am

    “Western leaders have completely lost any right to talk about democracy anywhere in the world.”