Hosni Mubarak is a dictator. But the US has had trouble articulating this simple statement because, instead of considering him as such, we have preferred to cast him as our ally.
The proximate roots of this situation lie in the assassination of Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, and the concern as to whether his relatively unknown successor would be able to maintain regional stability, after Sadat had so bravely been the first Arab leader to agree to peace with Israel. To maintain the peace, as well as to keep the Egyptians out of the Soviet orbit, in which they had been circulating in the 50s and 60s, the US made Egypt one of it’s client states, making it other than Israel the state into which it poured the most money, a status it holds to this day (excepting the two instances in which we have dismantled and are trying to rebuild, Iraq and Afghanistan).
The problem, of course, is that a democratic country like the US ought not to have a dictator as an ally, insofar as his regime represents the very antithesis of the values on which the US rests. This should have been brought into sharper relief after 911, when Islamic radicals, including Egyptian ringleader Mohammed Atta, targeted the US for it’s meddling in the Middle East generally speaking and for it’s support of repressive regimes in particular. But rather than reconsidering whether the support of such regimes was proper, the US doubled-down and simply deepened support for the leadership of countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are enemies of openness but who are all about the magic word “stability,” which is what the US government seems to value above else.
“Stability,” however, does not seem to have any kind of moral center. It is used in grave tones by people in high places wearing somber expressions, but when one looks at what the word means in actual practice one finds that it means not much more than “the maintenance of leadership in Muslim countries which will allow for the extraction of as much wealth from the region with the least possible fuss.” We praise people like Mubarak and the Saudis for their help in the so-called War on Terror despite the fact that the primary reason such a war exists is because the West has, since the end of WWI when it carved up the Ottoman Empire, tried to prop up compliant strongmen who will keep the oil flowing as cheaply as possible. The Muslim movements that want to kill Americans are only trying to do so because of American participation in the suppression and exploitation of Muslim peoples and their resources.
So it is not surprising to see The Obama administration hem and haw in the face of Egyptians rising up to throw off their dictator. We saw this in 1979 when the Carter administration had to try to say something intelligible about it’s ally the Shah as Tehran was burning. We continue to make these bargains with the Devil, believing that we will be able either to rehabilitate the tyrant d’jour or else outrun the consequences of having gotten in bed with him. The Obama Administration should do what no President in nearly a century has been able to do, which is to cut loose this tyrant and the rest of his ilk. The “stability” we have all been “enjoying” has not taken into account anything other than our own comfort and safety, and we would do well to expand our horizon on those issues. By attending to our national values and to the well-being of the people who have to live under the tyrants we have supported, we will actually enhance our own long term comfort and safety, and contribute to real stability in the Muslim world