BY ARIEL SMILOWITZ
For the past several weeks, the world has anxiously watched Egyptian Dictator Hosni Mubarak’s reign crumble. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have gathered in the heart of Cairo, refusing to back down until Mubarak steps down. The enormous rebellion against the oppressive government has received worldwide attention, and as the United States and several other world powers urge Mubarak to resign, the protest has been seen as the ultimate fight for democracy and freedom. However, as the Egyptian government slowly disintegrates, the United States is preparing to face the potentially dangerous consequences that the revolution will bring, and will have to face a major dilemma regarding Middle Eastern diplomacy and the war on terror. The revolution has shed light on the United States’ ulterior motives in regards to peace, democracy, economics, and terrorism, and has revealed that not everything the U.S. government does is as it seems. Although the U.S. is publicly promoting democracy in Egypt, is that call for freedom truly sincere, or will the threat that terrorism may reign in the aftermath of the revolt take precedence instead? Nonetheless, no matter what course the Egyptian revolution takes, the U.S. government must choose between democracy and national security.
Egypt is very important to the United States. First and foremost, the nation has been our ally for about thirty years and has helped us fight against terrorism. Thus, Egypt is essential in maintaining some semblance of stability in the Middle East. Furthermore, Egypt, which is the largest and most populous Arab country, is an ally to Israel, so the chaos that has erupted could potentially disrupt the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty that has existed for over 30 years and in effect could cause tensions in the Middle East to flare. In regards to the United States, Egypt is also a major asset economically, as it operates the Suez Canal and is where much of the oil we purchase is refined for our use. Ever since the rebellion in Egypt began, the cost of oil has been to steadily rising – haven’t you noticed the sharp rise in prices? – putting quite a damper on our economy. The economics of oil are simple: when there is turmoil in the Middle East, the world is going to suffer.
As the revolution in Egypt continues, the United States has made sure to publicly call for Mubarak to step down, so that democratic reform can sweep through the troubled nation. However, this call for resignation is in stark contrast with previous actions the U.S. government has taken. For the past thirty years, the United States has given Egypt about 1.2 billion dollars in military aid every year and in effect has helped fund the oppressive regime of an autocrat for several decades. In fact, the protesters in Egypt are constantly being attacked with weapons made in the United States. With this in mind, why has the world’s pinnacle of democracy been supporting oppression and autocracy? Again, our government’s actions have largely revolved around Egypt’s fragile position in keeping Middle Eastern tensions in check. For the U.S., which is the lesser evil, an oppressive dictator or terrorism?
This isn’t the first time that the United States has supported an oppressive dictator. In 1953, the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup d’état, orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom and the United States. The coup, also known as Operation Ajax, launched the twenty-six year reign of dictator Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, a regime that was heavily supported by the U.S. However, the U.S.’s actions backfired and in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, resulting in a virulently anti-American Islamic regime that continues to exist today. As historian Stephen Kinzer once said, “The world has paid a heavy price for the lack of democracy in most of the Middle East. Operation Ajax taught tyrants and aspiring tyrants that the world’s most powerful governments were willing to tolerate limitless oppression as long as oppressive regimes were friendly to the West and to Western oil companies.” Sound familiar?
In the end, the United States has a tough decision to make. Although the U.S. government claims that democracy must be given to the Egyptians, it also has to understand that the result could very well be a government hostile toward the U.S. However, that is the price of democracy, so once again, the same question arises: do we promote democracy at the expense of our own safety, or do we combat terrorism at the expense of democracy? The time is upon us to decide.