The violence in Egypt brings into sharp focus a moral dilemma that has troubled me for a long time. Should you overlook the bad things a friend does just because he (or she) is your friend?
Does loyalty trump conscience?
The leaders of Israel have no qualms on the topic. Hosni Mubarak is their man – however repressive he might be.
Egypt signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state under the leadership of Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat. And under Mubarak, Egypt has cooperated with Israel on the blockade of Gaza. Even more compelling is the possibility that Islamic extremists could gain power if the Mubarak regime were to fall. So Israel – and the powerful pro-Israel groups in the United States – are definitely not supporting the Egyptian pro-democracy protests.
But the choice is not so clear-cut in the U.S. White House.
Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, which cover the first year of the Obama presidency, show how valuable an ally Mubarak has been, detailing how he backed the United States in its confrontation with Iran, played mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and supported Iraq’s government.
Of course this kind of support doesn’t come cheap in the Arab world. The Egyptian government is one of the largest recipients of U.S. “foreign aid,” which includes a lot of military “aid.”
(In other words, the tanks and guns Mubarek is using to suppress the demonstrations probably come from the USA.)
Also, American leaders have been careful to soft-pedal public criticism of Mubarek’s repressive regime, even though they insist that they pressured him privately to be more “democratic.”
Now, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton must face the question posed by Egyptian democracy leader and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and repeated by Truthout’s Robert Naiman in a moving article today:
If Western leaders, who have backed the dictator Mubarak for 30 years, cannot stand before the Egyptian people today and say unequivocally, “we support your right of national self-determination,” when can they do it?
In a dangerous world, where friends are few and enemies abound, does America dare to stand up for freedom and democracy? Even when the price is abandoning a longtime ally?
Or should the Obama regime merely tut-tut and shake its finger in mild reproach as Mubarak’s repression continues?
Here’s a disturbing excerpt from the Truthout article:
“The international community must understand we are being denied every human right day by day,” he (ElBaradei) said. “Egypt today is one big prison. If the international community does not speak out it will have a lot of implications. We are fighting for universal values here. If the west is not going to speak out now, then when?”
Giving forceful illustration to ElBaradei’s words that “Egypt today is one big prison,” Egyptian police later doused (the Egyptian pro-democracy leader) with a water cannon and beat supporters who tried to shield him… then trapped ElBaradei in a mosque by surrounding it with tear gas:
The United States could probably pull the rug out from under Mubarak by cutting off aid to Egypt, but Mubarak’s fall might open the gates to a flood of Islamic extremism that would threaten Israel and inevitably draw America into a Middle East confrontation.
Also, abandoning him would expose the U.S. to the charge of disloyalty and discourage other regimes from allying themselves with the west.
But by keeping him as an ally, America’s leaders expose themselves to the charge of moral bankruptcy. There’s that still small voice to reckon with.
What would you do?