US needs to be on side of Egyptian people

Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2011

I’m Egyptian, and like every other Egyptian person I know, I have been mesmerized and inspired by the images of the Egyptian people rising up.

We all knew this day would come, but the mobilization of people power in Tunisia, which led to the departure of the autocrat there, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has accelerated the inevitable. Tyranny simply cannot last forever.

In Egypt today, the people are loudly saying no.

They are saying no to dictatorship, no to political oppression, no to police brutality, no to systematic torture, no to rigged elections, no to 30 years of emergency rule, no to runaway inflation, no to cronyism, no to corruption, no to sectarianism, and no to hopelessness.

But they are also saying yes.

They are cheering on a new Egypt — an Egypt defined by the whole of its people rather than the interests of a few. They are demanding an open political system and real economic opportunities.

Make no mistake: This is a diverse and pluralistic movement, initially driven by the youth from across the country, but now encompassing people of all ages. Labor movements, youth associations, professional unions, judges and journalists, opposition parties, bloggers and their followers, the middle class and the poor, men and women, Muslim and Christians — all are uniting for a new Egypt.

This is far from an Islamist takeover of Egypt. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood was slow to participate in the demonstrations, and reports indicate that chants of “Allahu Akbar” (“God Is the Greatest”) are being drowned out by “Muslims, Christians, we’re all Egyptians!” (It rhymes in Arabic, too.) This is a delicate moment for U.S. foreign policy.

Egyptians know only too well how the United States supported dictator Hosni Mubarak all along. Washington lavished $1.5 billion of foreign aid a year to the Egyptian regime, with a whopping $1.3 billion of that in direct military aid.

And this funding supported a true police state.

In recent days, a popular image circulating among the demonstrators in Egypt has been of a spent tear gas canister shot at the demonstrators. The image has focused on the line that reads: “Made in the USA.” The United States now needs to establish the Egyptian people’s trust. Years of admonishing Arab states for their lack of democracy while propping up their dictators has left the United States with little credibility among the Arab masses.

Moving against the will of the Egyptian people will bring nothing but resentment and conflict for years to come. By being on the side of the Egyptian people, the United States has the chance to forge a common destiny with the country based on dialogue, cooperation and mutual respect.

The United States must support the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. Not only is it the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.

• Moustafa Bayoumi, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, is author of “How Does It Feel to be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America” (The Penguin Press). He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.



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