By Sajida Tasneem
As Egyptian people continue their struggle for democracy, one month on since Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down as President of Egypt on 11 February, 2011, the unleashing of a democratic process in Egypt has challenged just about every cultural and political stereotype prevalent in the West about Arab people and the Middle East. The “chaotic”, “irrational”, “weak”, “politically inept” people of the Orient deemed incapable of bringing “order” and considered “incompatible” with democracy have not only managed to topple a dictator and pave the way for crucial political and constitutional reforms, but more significantly they’ve managed to achieve this all by themselves, without the help of the charitable hand of the West, the “great saviour” of repressed peoples to thank for.
Of course, no one should be surprised to hear that real democracy emerges through the power of demos; that it always manifests itself from within the society seeking representative government, accountability and social justice; and its purpose by nature is to serve the people not the greed of foreign powers. Unmistakably, the emerging democracy in Egypt is exactly that: made in Egypt, by the people, for the people. It is not being accomplished due to humanitarian help from the West by means of UN resolutions, condemnation by world leaders, UN sanctions, arm-embargos, NATO no-fly-zones, bombing, invasion and such assault by on the sovereignty of their country. It is a movement of their own making: the result of cumulative, tireless efforts over the years by pro-democracy and human rights activists, many of whom have endured beatings, torture, imprisonment and even death at the hands of Egypt’s brutal State Security.
Yet, despite the fact that the Egyptian people are the legitimate agents and subjects of their struggle for justice, the mainstream, neo-colonial political narrative in the West continues to propagated belief that they need our help in their transition to democracy. Since the protests began this year on 25 January, and Mubarak’s consequent resignation we’ve continually witnessed numerous self-important calls by Western politicians, commentators and the media alike as to what the West can do to “help” Egypt in its struggle for democracy; how the US has offered its expertise and money to help; how Westerns leaders should ensure that Egypt remains free from future tyrannical rule; and how we need to make certain that the forces of democracy are not hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists.
David Cameron visited Egypt last month with an entourage of arm dealers in tow because he wanted to “make sure this is a genuine transition from military rule to civilian rule.” This week William Hague has spoken of the “welcome progress towards democratic transition in Egypt and Tunisia”, Hillary Clinton in speaking with Egypt’s new Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf last Sunday reassured US support for Egypt’s democracy. On the same day France’s Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé visited Egypt announcing his admiration for the Egyptian people and promising aid and support to them. All this “helping” and “making sure” business should not fool anyone to believe that suddenly the West has begun to care about the freedom, dignity and aspirations of the Egyptian people.
In their quest for global domination, the Western power block led by the US during the post-colonial era has supported corrupt, repressive regimes in the region like that of Mubarak and Ben Ali in Tunisia who in return for aid or oil deals in the desert as in Libyan case with Gaddafi have repressed democracy in their respective countries. As events continue to unfold both within Egypt and the wider region at large, we will witness more opportunistic offers of support and assistance intended to guarantee that whoever comes to power remains a pliant ally for the West. Any real democratic government, whose aspirations would undoubtedly conflict with Western hegemonic interests, will be kept at bay. The aid which is being offered to Egypt is not a humanitarian gift without the usual terms and conditions of “compliance” it entails. These gestures are very much business as usual, not representing any fundamental change in the objectives behind Western foreign policy, but simply a shift in strategy.
In this vein, Britain and the US will continue to bestow humanitarian favours upon Egypt such as their benevolent efforts to evacuate hundreds of Egyptians who have been stranded in Libya. When analysts, experts, politicians, and academics of all sorts are lined up to discuss to whether Egypt and the Middle East is “ready” for democracy and create panic over possible power vacuums which al-Qaeda could fill, these vacuous discussions serve to legitimise such interference.
A case for some sort of intervention is being echoed if radical Islamic elements seize power, even though it seems unlikely to happen on a large scale considering the mass protests have not been underpinned by religious fervour. The protests have not been driven by ‘mad mullahs’. There have been no anti-US sentiments, burning of US flags, death-to-Israel chants, and the local Starbucks has not been set alight. The uprising was not sponsored by al-Qaeda. It has a popular base, inclusive of all segments of Egyptian society, cutting across class, religion, age, urban-rural and gender divisions and the demands of the protestors have not been for “sharia” or Islamic rule, but simply an end to the social injustice and economic disparity.
However, although the neo-colonial civilising mission will carry on, in Egypt we are unlikely to see the military humanitarian interventionism of the West which we saw in former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Here for the last two decades, under the pretext of saving the world from al-Qaeda, WMD, and saving the “victims” of despotic rulers from genocide, the West has tried to bomb liberty into them. Taking into consideration that the global financial crisis has strained military budgets and the lack of international and domestic support for such intervention it will mean that more subtle strategies will be deployed in seeking suitable partners to ally Western interests.
Whilst it’s jolly good of the colonial masters to be thinking of the best interest of the natives, when they say they want to help Egypt, it is rather presuming to say the least that 83 millions Egyptians are asking for Western help or interference in their struggle for justice, which they clearly are not. It is noteworthy, that both during the uprising and the struggles by activists in the months and years leading up to it, Egyptian people did not come with beggar bowl in hand, to kneel at the feet of the West for it to dish out democracy to them. Indeed, no individual or group even asked the West to condemn the regime’s use of force against the protestors during the uprising or its human rights abuses during the past thirty years of brutal oppression. They did not ask the West to help them overthrow Mubarak, nor are we hearing cries by Egyptians to bring Mubarak and the perpetrators of his corrupt regime to justice in international courts for their human rights abuses.
When the Swiss government announced that it had frozen Mubarak’s assets it was not at the request of the interim rulers. Egypt’s public prosecutor issued its own order on 28 February freezing the assets of Mubarak and his family, and preventing them from travelling outside Egypt. Even though it is well known that the Mubarak family have amassed huge amounts of wealth in the UK no request has yet been made to David Cameron to freeze their assets. Whether, this is merely a political strategy and balancing act by the interim military rulers it certainly reflects the populist sentiments rejecting any kind of interference by the West.
Egyptians are less than appreciative of such help because they are well aware of that of the hypocrisy and track record of the West where they have interfered to the detriment of the people such as the Afghan mission to support democratic elections where in the end a corrupt, glorified war-lord called Karzai took power. On a more fundamental level, it is perhaps because Egyptians seem to understand democracy better than the so called heirs of democracy themselves, that it is utterly nonsensical to believe that the process of democracy can be somehow be “exported” to people in the form of foreign aid, arms deals package, sanctions and no-fly zones.
Whilst, Egypt has a long way to go in dismantling the apparatus of a systematically corrupt regime, Egyptian people are not looking for international sympathy. They believe that they can make their own destiny, not one which is approved and decided by Washington, Brussels or the UN. The American politician and orator William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) said that "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved." Likewise, democracy it is something which has to be achieved by the people, not waited for to be given in the form of arms deals and conditional foreign aid.
The West will still continue to keep their fingers in the pie and are certainly on the lookout for a suitable, horse to back in the forthcoming elections. However, Egyptians are smart, pragmatic, politically astute people striving to make their own history. Both Egypt and Tunisia have made it more apparent than ever that democracy does not have a copyright by the West and nor are Western nations the protectors of democracy. As the sands continue to shift the region and new political landscapes are formed, a clear message is being sent to both the West and any prospective rulers in Egypt: that Egypt’s soul is not up for sale to the highest bidder.
– Sajida Tasneem contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.