First Lady Laura Bush is a charming person. But she is no Middle East expert. Her comments Monday on "Egyptian democracy," which has become a pathetic oxymoron, are likely to come back and haunt the Bush Administration. Egypt is becoming the new Iran.
Memories fade over time but my memories of Iran are vivid. The Shah of Iran convinced President Nixon that Iran was vital to U. S. interests. Oil flowed towards America; weapons flowed back to Iran. Iran became an obscene caricature of modern civilization. The Pahlavi "dynasty" rewarded its friends and imprisoned Iranian advocates of freedom. Women flew to Paris to have their hair done; 747’s flew to Tehran for weekend parties. Pahlavi and Company were living on borrowed time.
President Carter continued Nixon’s policies but dissent began to overwhelm the Shah. An eccentric mullah who had been exiled to Najaf, Iraq (of all places) planned a revolution. America is still paying the price for its foolishness in Iran.
The Mubarek dictatorship in Egypt is indistinguishable from pre-revolutionary Iran. Dissent leads to arrest; opponents are imprisoned. A "state of emergency" has existed for almost 25 years. Elections are a joke. Mubarek is seeking to impose his goofy son Gamal on the Egyptian people and create a "Mubarek Dynasty." Somewhere, the Shah is looking down (or looking up) and laughing.
Mrs. Bush has wandered into this explosive situation. As a tourist she is harmless. As a foreign policy expert, endorsing Mubarek’s show elections, she is not. Mubarek’s attempt to placate the Bush’ Administration’s demands for democracy are a joke. Joe Stalin would be proud of Egypt’s strongman.
Revolution, upheaval and collapse are coming to Egypt. The question is not "whether," but "when?" American-backed dictatorships always topple in the same fashion. We back crooks such as Mubarek; internal pressure builds up; an explosive event triggers popular rebellion; revolution and collapse soon follow. How soon in the case of Egypt?
Hard to say. As long as the Egyptian people do not become too restive, the current situation could endure as long as Mubarek appears to be healthy. There were tremors when he appeared weakened and ill. The tremors will inevitably return, and eventually explode when he dies.
Mubarek is not holding an "election." In deference to President Bush, or perhaps in contempt of our president, Mubarek is holding an electoral coronation. Mrs. Bush’s words are always vetted and scripted. Why did the Bush Administration send her to endorse show elections in Egypt? Beats me.
Mrs. Bush endorsed Mubarek’s contemptuous "democracy" project as a "bold step." She then slimed the American people by claiming that American-style democracy did not appear overnight. Wrong. Mrs. Bush falls short as a constitutional scholar as well as foreign policy expert.
Our Constitution has protected human rights from the beginning. Yes, the Constitution was a compromise; many problems remained unsolved after 1789. But we had separation of powers, a legislature, executive and judiciary. Soon after, a Bill of Rights was approved. By comparison, Egyptians are slaves to Mubarek and his secret police; after the fall election, Egyptians will still be slaves.
What should Mrs. Bush have said? Ideally, she should have said nothing. Making controversial political statements is not the role of a First Lady, especially when she has no background in the region or its politics. But if the Bush Administration was so anxious to have her speak, she should have said: "End the state of emergency; let everyone run for office; allow free elections with meaningful debate and dissent. Don’t make a joke of the hopes my husband has expressed for Egypt and the region." Of course, she could not say those things and still be a gracious guest. So she endorsed the Mubarek regime and put another nail in the coffin of American foreign policy in the Middle East.
Pretending Mubarek is a democrat will not make him one. When Mrs. Bush endorses democracy Mubarek-style, she insults the Egyptian people. Mrs. Bush insults the hopes of her own husband, who probably genuinely believes in democracy but has not a clue how to obtain it. Mrs. Bush makes a mockery of President Bush’s claims that America is genuinely committed to genuine democracy. But maybe she is just telling the truth. Are they that cynical in the White House? Cynical or stupid, take your choice.
Surely Middle East opponents of President Bush will view his wife’s comments with scorn and contempt. Mrs. Bush may have fooled herself by making flatulent claims about Mubarek, but she did not fool Egyptians or other Arabs. Mubarek’ secret police will be emboldened to arrest more people, harass more political meetings, and continue their travesty of freedom and human rights.
America will pay the price. Working Americans, who are suffering under falling wages and increased international tensions, will pay the price. And the people of Egypt will pay the price. Like the Chinese despots in Peking, Mubarek believes he can continue his obscene family dynasty and rule by decree while allowing Egypt’s economy to grow and improve. It won’t work. A free economy is dependent on a free society, not vice versa. Americans are free not because our economy is strong; our economy is strong because we have enjoyed freedoms unavailable elsewhere.
And so, Mrs. Bush’s ill-advised and unfortunate endorsement of Mubarek-style democracy is likely to backfire, now, and in the future. Egypt will become the new Iran. Sooner or later. The Shah is smiling. But from where he is, he can’t warn his tinhorn successor in Cairo. Mubarek & Co. will have to learn the same rueful lessons for themselves. And we will have to learn the same horrible lessons all over again as well. No thanks to Mrs. Bush. Freedom isn’t free. Not in America. And not in Egypt.