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Hey America, Can You Spare Some REAL Change?

February 8, 2011

I know I had an Egypt post below but it was getting a bit unwieldy so I thought I’d start this one and highlight an utterly depressing article from the NYT:

Vice President Omar Suleiman of Egypt says he does not think it is time to lift the 30-year-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders. He does not think President Hosni Mubarak needs to resign before his term ends in September. And he does not think his country is yet ready for democracy.

But, considering it lacks better options, the United States has strongly backed him to play the pivotal role in a still uncertain transition process in Egypt. In doing so, it is relying on the existing government to make changes that it has steadfastly resisted for years, and even now does not seem impatient to carry out.

After two weeks of recalibrated messages and efforts to keep up with a rapidly evolving situation, the Obama administration is still trying to balance support for some of the basic aspirations for change in Egypt with its concern that the pro-democracy movement could be “hijacked,” as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it, if change were to come too quickly.

The result has been to feed a perception, on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, that the United States, for now at least, is putting stability ahead of democratic ideals, and leaving hopes of nurturing peaceful, gradual change in large part in the hands of Egyptian officials — starting with Mr. Suleiman — who have every reason to slow the process.


The United States has certainly had long ties with Mr. Suleiman, 74, who headed Egyptian intelligence from 1993 until he was named vice president last month. For years he has been an important contact for the Central Intelligence Agency and a regular briefer for visiting American officials, who appear to have valued his analysis of Egypt’s relations with neighbors and domestic challenges, as diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks make clear.

The cables describe Mr. Suleiman as Mr. Mubarak’s “consigliere” and having “an extremely sharp analytical mind” and serving as “the de facto national security adviser with direct responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian account.” One 2009 cable mentions him as a possible successor to Mr. Mubarak, to whom he has long been extremely close.


Similarly, a meeting with opposition groups on Sunday led by Mr. Suleiman was seen by many Egyptian activists as nothing more than political theater that yielded no concrete steps toward reform. In a statement afterward — characterized by opposition figures as propaganda — Mr. Suleiman offered some of what the administration sought, but left himself a lot of wiggle room.

In the statement, he said a committee “will be formed from members of the judicial authority and a number of political figures to study and recommend constitutional amendments” and related laws. The work is supposed to be completed by the first week of March.

But the recommendations do not appear to be binding on the government; in the end, they would have to be approved by a Parliament that took office after an election last year that American officials say was clearly fixed to benefit Mr. Mubarak’s party.

The document promised that “the state of emergency will be lifted based on the security situation and an end to the threats to the security of society.” This is similar to what Mr. Mubarak has said for decades. The state of emergency has never been lifted.

The statement also says that “media and communications will be liberalized and no extralegal constraints will be imposed on them.” But “liberalized” is never defined, nor is it clear that Egypt is willing to allow the free flow of information over the Internet.

The White House took no issue with Mr. Suleiman’s statement; administration officials said it looked like the setting of some clear goals. On Monday, Mr. Obama said Mr. Suleiman’s talks with opposition leaders the day before were making progress.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    February 8, 2011 3:45 pm

    Ug, this IS depressing. What happened to free, fair, and internationally monitored elections? If the Egyptian people want Suleiman, well OK. But this is a rigged transition with no clear reforms in sight.

    By the way, my Egyptian can driver today today me Mubarek is worth over 40 BILLION dollars? Can that be true?

  2. February 8, 2011 4:05 pm

    Here’s a list of some of the other ruthlessly repressive dictators our government supports, whether we are governed by GOP or Dem. No hope and/or change for them, either.

  3. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    February 8, 2011 5:00 pm

    I like what Ghandi had to say about despots: “When I despair, I remember that all through history there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always.”

      • February 9, 2011 9:02 am

        When you say one thing and do another, it makes messaging a tad bit challenging across your team.

      • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
        February 9, 2011 10:22 am

        Wasn’t it Obama’s idea — after that convocation of “experts” minus a single Arab representative — to send Wisner to speak to Mubarek? He sounds like a loose cannon.

        • February 9, 2011 10:27 am

          Actually, I believe it was Hillary’s idea but I don’t think that really matters.

          Quite frankly, Wisner should know better, particularly given the issue of conflicts of interest that were raised about his business dealings with Egypt/Mubarak. It’s not his role to speak for the administration and as a result it’s put pressure on the State Dept. and WH.

          The State Dept. needs to hire Steve Clemons- he’s such a practical, honest, down to earth “expert”- he’s from the New America Foundation and was at the meeting of the panel of experts on Egypt at the WH. He’s been on MSNBC a lot commentating on the Egypt crisis and he’s one of the few that has their head screwed on straight and he’s not fear-mongering.

  4. SirJohn permalink
    February 9, 2011 9:01 am

    Lets be honest, shall we?

    The administration wants to appear to be on the side of democracy promotion while trying to get people to pay no attention to the Man Behind the Curtain. The US and it’s client state, Israel, want Sulieman to lead the fake transition not in spite of his sketchy, immoral, corrupt, human rights abusing past, but BECAUSE of it. We’ve been doing business with him for years and the Israelis being the immoral corrupt fascists that they are, want him to rig the game so Egypt will continue to be a puppet to the US and Israel when it comes to Mideast peace. So now Hillary and O’Bambi are dancing to Israel’s tune just like they always do because hey, we have elections coming up and if they do something Israel doesn’t like, the Jewish vote threatens to run to the other side like a bunch of spoiled toddler.

    As Thain said in a previous comment to a previous post- Israeli negotiator [during the Clinton years) Dan Levy said to the NYT that all this hand-wringing in DC is all about one thing right now- Israel. He doesn’t mean that in a good way.

    Once again Israel proves to be a huge strategic liability that forces us to distance ourselves from our most fundamental ideals. But hey, that’s pretty much our Mideast policy for the last several decades. Pander to Israel lose credibility and then run around crying that Israel is being delegitimized by nasty antisemites when in fact, Israel’s policies are repugnant, heavy-handed and dangerous.

    Great system.

  5. February 9, 2011 9:53 am

    OT: I’ve talked a lot about Ethan Bronner and his reporting. Get this totally hypocritical stance from the NYT:

    I’m sorry, but the issue of whether the media has a pro-Israel bias is over- it does. It’s settled. The fact that once in a while someone decides to ask what a Palestinian thinks about what’s going on doesn’t change that. Sorry, we can no longer indulge that fantasy to make ourselves feel better about knowing the whole story.

    Ethan Bronner lives in Jerusalem, is married to an Israeli, has a son in the IDF but there’s no conflict of interest in his sole beat being Jerusalem bureau chief. And yet, a writer co-authors an article that talks about Jewish Voice for Peace and he happens to have taken part in pro-Palestinian rallies in the past, so he can’t write an article about the I-P conflict or Jewish groups which question Israeli govt policies? The NYT says it NEVER would have published the article had it known the author *gasp* had attended those rallies. But Bronner can write his biased articles that focus on only one side of the conflict and which unquestioningly repeat the latest Israeli govt/IDF talking point and that’s ok?

    Here’s what I think happened- what always happens in cases like this. Someone who wants to silence other Jewish voices in the debate complained to the NYT and they issued the retraction. That’s how the lobby works- intimidate the media into not providing diverse viewpoints on the I-P issue for fear of complaints, pulled advertising and claims of anti-Israel sentiment. Sadly, it seems to work every time.

    If you feel so inclined please write the Times and point out their flagrant hypocrisy.

    • Steve permalink
      February 9, 2011 11:12 am

      That is incredible. I’ll go try to find the email of the NYT public editor (it’s Bill Keller?) and write him and complain about it.

      Bronner should have been reassigned. He’s a joke.

  6. Steve permalink
    February 9, 2011 11:11 am

    This sort of pains me to say, but Hillary and Obama aren’t looking so good in all this Egypt stuff. Hillary’s statements about being a great family friend of the Mubaraks have made the rounds on the internet and TV as well as her pro-Mubarak statement that the regime was “stable” two weeks ago. Then the WH and State dept. made sure pro-democracy funds were cut for Egypt- at the request of Mubarak. Then you have Hillary downplaying (last year) the State Dept. report documenting widespread torture, rape and oppression by the Mubarak regime. This discusses some of that:

    Stacy posted this yesterday but it also discusses the role that Obama and the State dept. played in reducing the funding to democracy programs and moving it to the military funding:

    Hillary sort of gets defensive and talks about how she said this or that in Doha about Middle Eastern autocrats needing to make reforms but words are just words. What matters is what the US has been doing behind the scenes to actually promote human rights and it all points to not a whole helluva lot. We’re totally hypocritical and not just with Egypt- with China, Tibet, the Palestinians and on and on. We say one thing and do another and it’s not lost on the rest of the world and we’re losing credibility particularly in the Muslim world.

    Don’t attack me for saying this. I totally understand the State Dept. coordinates with the WH but I have to wonder what on earth they are thinking. Once you come out looking like you totally support Mubarak it’s hard to walk back from that and I think that’s the problem you are having.

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