Tahrir Square, the afternoon of February 6
Is it racism?
In Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East the U.S. is acting like the plantation owner who is certain that his negroes don't really have the same sensibilities and capabilities as he and his kind do: The poor darkies are incapable of fully rational behavior, they certainly can't govern themselves without the slave driver or overseer, and they're there to support his civilization and keep him rich and comfortable. Today the same patronizing attitude could be laid at the door of most Western governments, if not all.
Massa never went away; he now strides the world and he still wants it his way.
Unless I'm reading it wrong, at the moment Egyptian policy for European and American leaders alike, what they would like to see happen, seems to reflect the desire of their peoples. While they may be operating as democracies to that extent, there appears to be no wish that the world should share their blessings.
The Western establishment have made accommodation with the existing but now seriously threatened "stability" in the Middle East, and they want to preserve this corrupt old order at all costs, even at the expense of a genuine stability.
An indigenous, popular, secular, non-partisan and cross-generational protest has been initiated in the country which forms a keystone in the arab and muslim world. It represents an awesome, unprecedented, beneficent opportunity for all of the Middle East and for the world. It was handed over to Western democracies and the world, freely, without strings, and with love. We all hit the jackpot, and we hadn't had to lift a finger. That opportunity is now being lost, and we will live to regret it.
With notable exceptions, and in spite of occasional lip service to their ideals, people outside Egypt don't actually seem to want democracy there. It is seen as a threat to their own comfortable world, and they haven't the courage of their advertised convictions. If there has to be change, their arguments generally describe a slow process, perhaps a very slow process, one which should be under the control of the existing government (a brutal dictatorship which has repressed all political reform for 30 years under a spurious emergency decree).
From the beginning of the Egyptian protests two weeks ago our own "change" President was extremely slow to speak up or act, and when he did he was always seen to be trailing events (not unlike his partner, or client, Mubarak). Eventually it seemed that Obama had started to get it. Judging from statements which have come from the administration over the last few days however, incredible as it may seem, he's now backpedaling from whatever support he seemed to be giving to the protests. My guess is that he swallowed premature reports that the movement had begun to weaken, and decided he was now off the hook.
Yesterday an AP AP story by Matthew Lee reported this:
"A question that that would pose is whether Egypt today is prepared to have a competitive, open election," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "Given the recent past, where, quite honestly, elections were less than free and fair, there's a lot of work that has to be done to get to a point where you can have free and fair elections."
That was hardly the line in 1989.
Twenty-two years later it may be cynical calculation, if extraordinarily shortsighted, but it's definitely racist.
The Washington Post editorial board thinks Obama is being played a fool. I think he knows exactly what he's doing, and it's just plain wrong.
ADDENDUM: Then again, could Obama be acting as a double agent? Not likely, I think, but I just watched a February 6 New York Times video by Rob Harris, David D. Kirkpatrick, and Enas Muthaffar, titled "Egyptians React to U.S. policy." After showing shots and statements of protesters angry or disappointed about Obama's support of the regime, the reporter's voice-over says, "Still others saw American support for their cause as a liability, bolstering the state's portrayal of the protesters as tools of foreign powers."
One young man questioned in Tahrir Square [looking much like one of the of the movement's attractive "kind of scruffy intellectuals" described earlier in the video] is recorded saying, "Barack Obama being against our agenda here is something good for us."
One thing is clear: These people are not going to be anybody's patsies.
[image from Andrew Burton, who has many more great Cairo shots here; plus some personal thoughts on a revolution]