Combs Spouts Off

"It's my opinion and it's very true."

  • Calendar

    July 2020
    S M T W T F S
    « Jan    
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    262728293031  
  • Recent Posts

  • Tag Cloud

  • Archives

Sharansky hopeful about Egypt

Posted by Richard on February 5, 2011

The Wall Street Journal's David Feith interviewed Natan Sharansky about recent events in Egypt and other Arab dictatorships, and found him neither as surprised nor as pessimistic as most of the so-called experts:

"The reason people are going to the streets and making revolution is their desire not to live in a fear society," Mr. Sharansky says. In his taxonomy, the world is divided between "fear societies" and "free societies," with the difference between them determinable by what he calls a "town square test": Are the people in a given society free to stand in their town square and express their opinions without fear of arrest or physical harm? The answer in Tunisia and Egypt, of course, has long been "no"—as it was in the Soviet bloc countries that faced popular revolutions in 1989.

This idea is the animating feature of a worldview that bucks much conventional wisdom. Uprisings like Tunisia's and Egypt's, he says, make "specialists—Sovietologists, Arabists—say 'Who could have thought only two weeks ago that this will happen?'" But "look at what Middle Eastern democratic dissidents were saying for all these years about the weakness of these regimes from the inside," and you won't be surprised when they topple, he says.

Sharansky doesn't buy the idea that propping up tyrants like Mubarak is the only way to prevent Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood from taking over. He argues that the longer Mubark remains in power, the more the Brotherhood becomes the only strong, well-organized opposition poised to take over. Better that the dictator should go now, with the streets largely filled with people yearning for freedom and democracy, not radical Islamists.

Sharansky wants the US to adopt a policy of "linkage," as it did with the Soviet Union in 1974:

If he were a U.S. senator, Mr. Sharansky says, he would immediately introduce a law to continue support to Egypt on condition that "20% of all this money goes to strengthening and developing democratic institutions. And the money cannot be controlled by the Egyptian government." Ideally his measure would kick in as soon as possible, so that it can affect the incentives of any Egyptian transitional government established to rule until September, when a presidential election is scheduled.

Sharansky thinks President Obama's response on Egypt is improving daily and is certainly much better than his response to the 2009 Iranian revolution: 

… By his reckoning, the Obama administration's position during the recent Iranian protests was "maybe one of the biggest betrayals of people's freedom in modern history. . . . At the moment when millions were deciding whether to go to the barricades, the leader of the free world said 'For us, the most important thing is engagement with the regime, so we don't want a change of regime.' Compared to this, there is very big progress [today]."

Inconsistency is par for the course in this field. "From time to time," Mr. Sharansky says of the George W. Bush administration, "America was giving lectures about democracy." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a strong address in Cairo in 2005. And in 2002, by threatening to withhold $130 million in aid to Egypt, the administration successfully pressured Mr. Mubarak to release the sociologist and democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim from prison. In their final years, however, administration officials reverted to bureaucratic form and relaxed their pressure drastically.

Condoleezza RiceEarlier this week, I recalled Condi's marvelous 2005 speech in Cairo and some of Bush's finest moments speaking about "the transformational power of liberty." But by 2006, with things going badly in Iraq and his popularity tanking, Bush pretty much gave up on the one thing he got right

President Obama relaxed it even further, Mr. Sharansky notes, inserting only vague language about democracy into his June 2009 address in Cairo. "There was no mention at all that at that  moment democratic dissidents were imprisoned, that Mubarak had put in prison the leading [opposition] candidate in the past election," Ayman Nour.

Much needs to change in Egypt, Sharansky concedes, before it can become a free society, but he believes those changes can and must begin now: 

Even if the U.S. embraces linkage, Egypt's September election could be quite problematic. "Only when the basic institutions that protect a free society are firmly in place—such as a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties—can free elections be held," Mr. Sharansky wrote in "The Case for Democracy." In Egypt, those "free, developed institutions," he tells me, "will not be developed by September."

What can develop over the next eight months, Mr. Sharansky says, is a U.S. policy making clear that "whoever is elected cannot continue to survive—he cannot continue to rely on the assistance of the free world in defense, economics, anything—if democratic reforms are not continued and if democratic institutions are not built." After several years of such democracy-building, he says, when dissidents like Mr. Ibrahim enjoy the ability to build institutions like trade unions and women's organizations, "then in a few years you'll have a different country, and you can have really free elections."

Read the whole thing. Then let your congresscritters know that you support Sharansky's proposal for aid linkage. 

Subscribe To Site:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.