02 February 2011

Left reaches new heights of hysteria on Egypt- NZ relations

Various commentaries I have seen from those not on the left have expressed either cautious optimism or cautious concern about the events in Egypt.  Either Egypt will unshackle itself from its authoritarian leadership and be more free, or it will walk from one largely secular authoritarian regime into an Islamist one.

I have yet to see anyone who has anything particularly good to say about Hosni Mubarak,  more a case of "he kept the peace" which for those with long memories, is worth something. Certainly the utterings from the US and UK governments have been calling on the Mubarak to move towards liberal democracy and political freedom for Egyptians.

Let's bear in mind a little of Egypt's post-colonial political history.  With independence in 1922 Egypt had a monarchy with an elected Parliament, but still had considerable British influences.  However between 1922 and 1952 it would be difficult to say it was liberal, secular and free, although it probably was more free than any other time in modern history.  Of course in 1952 Nasser and the military staged a coup, and with his combination of nationalism and "Arab socialism", he ruled with an iron fist.  He forcibly nationalised the Suez Canal, waged a wholly unsuccessful war against Israel (not called the Six Day War for nothing), and imprisoned, tortured and executed thousands of political prisoners.  He had extensive Soviet backing because the US refused to sell him arms to wage war with.  In 1971 he was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who also waged a largely unsuccessful war against Israel (Yom Kippur War) and then made peace famously at Camp David.  Sadat engaged in economic liberalisation, abandoning many of Nasser's failed socialist policies, and banned torture and extrajudicial arrests, until a significant break down of law and order saw authoritarian methods return.   Still, he was far more liberal than Nasser.  Sadat paid for peace with Israel with his life, and was succeeded by his deputy, Hosni Mubarak.  Egypt was rewarded by the US for effectively switching sides, with significant amounts of aid.  It became the new intermediary between the US/Israel and the other Arab states/PLO.  Mubarak engaged in further economic reforms, liberalising the economy and staging heavily slanted elections.   Political freedom was limited though, as Mubarak focused on suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood, which for some years waged a terrorist campaign against tourist sites, and locations frequented by US and British tourists that damaged the Egyptian economy.

So Egypt has little tradition of serious political freedom and individual rights.  What Mubarak has today is not a situation he created, but one he inherited and did rather little to reform.  He inherited it from Sadat, who inherited it from Nasser.

Not that you'll hear much of that, because Nasser was a great hero of the left.  Taking the Suez Canal from the British, instituting socialist economics and waging war to destroy Israel.  His hardline police state and Soviet style repression of the press are mere details.  

Yet the best that can be said about Mubarak is that he kept the peace between two countries that had four wars in less than thirty years.  Not that the so-called peace movement cares about peace when it is with a country that it hates.  He came to power when Egypt was under risk of being overrun by Islamists who would have wrecked that peace, and would have sought to oppress Egyptians still further.  Now I would never be one to be an apologist for the oppression, use of torture, political imprisonment and media censorship under Mubarak's regime.  All of that should and must go.  Yet, Mubarak is not the only one who should go.

Libya's Gaddafi has spent much of his career not only suppressing and brutalising his own people, but also arming and funding terrorism, murdering innocent civilians across Europe. Syria's Assad also runs a brutal police state, has invaded Lebanon and provided arms and funding for terrorists in the Middle East.  All of oil-rich sheikhdoms maintain strict political oppression, Saudi Arabia has a brutal police state, all of these regimes are also sexist and not without a strong thread of racism as well.

In other words, Arab politics are full of autocrats, men who will imprison, torture and execute opponents, who will suppress free speech, and in some cases flagrantly apply sexist and racist laws or practices in their regimes.  Mubarak is no different, except in making peace with Israel, he was rewarded by the US.

Arab politics are a sclerotic brand of paternalism. I'm of the cautiously optimistic school that says that there can be a peaceful transition to secular liberal democracy in Egypt, but that it will require forces of secularism, freedom and support for peace to fire themselves up more than the Muslim Brotherhood.  That is the challenge, and it is that freedom supporters of all shades should be promoting for Egypt.  The Mubarak regime is nearly over, but the new fight is just beginning - and it is the serious one.  For Egypt to remain at peace with Israel, to not sponsor terrorism and to allow its people to be free.

Who in the West disagrees?  Well some on the left are constructing a different dialogue.  A false belief that the "right" is somehow protecting Mubarak, by not openly calling for his resignation.  The same left that tends to want the West to withdraw from the affairs of other countries, wants it to actively demand the overthrow of a President.  Of course if it did say so, and then the Mubarak regime started mowing people down in their hundreds, then the West would be to blame for not providing military cover.  Then the West would be accused by some of occupying a country.  In other words, there is really little out from the criticism of the haters of liberal free open capitalist democracies.

Take some of the comments on the left in NZ.

Bomber on Tumeke and Eddie on the Standard says John Key supports Mubarak.  Why? Because he said on TV "no" to whether he was calling on Mubarak to go.  

The Standard says "I wonder who he has been talking with to form this view – presumably some American far right-wingers, no-one else is so reflexively pro-Israel and paranoid about Muslims.
I would have hoped we had a Prime Minister who supported democracy and the overthrow of dictators first and foremost. It seems we don’t."

Really? So the Prime Minister should be in the business of calling for leaders of distant countries to step down when it isn't clear what is going on?  

Bomber says it more crudely "We are supporting a Dictator that the people of Egypt are trying to over throw.."

Well no. There is a difference between expressing support and simply saying New Zealand is not calling for Mubarak to step down.  Not calling for something is not support, it is merely neutrality about the outcome.  To have said yes would have been decidedly non-neutral, but what could it have meant?  If Mubarak remains in the short term, it will have harmed relations and trade, but the implications are well beyond Egypt.  It suggests New Zealand provides support to those wishing to overthrow regimes.  The implications of that are not inconsiderable.
The subtlely on this is lost on Bomber:
"This Government have sold out our independent foreign policy to side with our 'allies' at any given moment, even when siding with our 'allies' now puts as at odds with the rest of the world.

Apparently NZ only supports freedom and democracy when our Dictator wins

What allies is New Zealand siding with? Hilary Clinton has said "We want to see an orderly transition to a democratic government" and

"the people, who have legitimate grievances and are seeking greater political freedom, a real path to democracy, and economic opportunity"

"We also don’t want to see some takeover that would lead not to democracy, but to oppression and the end of the aspirations of the Egyptian people"
Fair enough I would have thought, but as I said before, the left couldn't care less if Egypt became an Islamist dictatorship because it would be anti-US and anti-Israeli. The blood of apostate Egyptians, Jewish Egyptians, Christian Egyptians and secular Egyptians who oppose this are besides the point.  Supportive of Mubarak? Not really.  However, the US knows if it did call for his overthrow that it may be counter-productive, because so many opponents of the US would see it as weakness, and interference in Egyptian politics.  The US could never win if it was more interventionist.

The UK has been similar, with Foreign Secretary William Hague saying "genuine reforms [are] needed and [a] clear path towards an open society based on democratic values."

The only country calling for Mubarak to be overthrown is Iran.  However, the NZ left bloggers just think NZ foreign policy should be about blatantly telling leaders of other countries to stand down if they face mass protests.  Did they call for that when Iran blatantly forged the results of its elections? No.

Funny how only US backed dictatorships really get the blood boiling about the need for, um Western intervention.

Finally, Idiot Savant not only parrots the "John Key supports dictatorship" fabrication, but claims "Mubarak is a dictator and a torturer. The only difference between him and Saddam Hussein is that he's (still) a US ally, and pro-Israel"

The only difference?  This sort of statement demonstrates either a wilful disregard of history or the rather disgustingly cheap view that Mubarak must be as bad "because the US backed him".

Let's look at some facts.

Hussein waged war against Iran and Kuwait, Mubarak has maintained peace with its neighbours under his entire Presidency (yes I know the US supported Hussein invading Iran, but that's hardly Mubarak's fault).  Hussein used chemical weapons against his own population, Mubarak's Egypt has never had chemical weapons, let alone used them on its population.  Hussein banned all foreign media and the internet, making it criminal to receive foreign broadcasts.  Mubarak restricted domestic media, but never banned satellite dishes, shortwave radio listening or the internet (until the past week).  Hussein ran a personality cult on a grand scale, following the model of Stalin.  Mubarak can barely be said to have had one, largely consisting of his image and the occasional quote being seen in streets.  Hussein was personally (as was his family) a megalomaniacal killer, who purged his colleagues, those surrounding him in murderous style, who let his sons engage in rape, murder and theft, and who ruthlessly staged brutal executions.  Whilst Mubarak's regime has engaged in political executions and has had poor accountability for police brutality and torture, there have not been reports of him being sadistic or engaging brutality for the sake of it.

It is pure dishonesty to equate the two.  Mubarak is a dictator, but on the light end of the scale, Hussein is full blown war-mongering, sadistic, murdering, megalomaniac.  It is like equating Castro with Pol Pot. 

Finally, Mubarak is not pro-Israel by any means.  He took a harder line with Israel than Sadat, he has often criticised Israel.  Egypt has annual military exercise in the Sinai, aimed at defence against Israel.  Domestic Egyptian media has had little restrictions on criticising Israel, with anti-Israeli sentiment freely expressed.  The term "cold-peace" is not being friendly, just tolerating and recognising each other.

Such nonsense, such hysteria, spouting venom and hatred, filled with exaggerated fabrications.

However, anything is on if you're trying to smear your political opponents isn't it?  

UPDATE:  Syria's Ba'athist dictator, Bashar al Assad has said that the events in Egypt wont be repeated in Syria.  Why?  Because "he maintained his own country was stable because of its "cause", opposition to the pro-Israeli agenda followed by the US and its regional allies, such as Cairo and Amman".  It wouldn't be because his father, Hafez al Assad (note the hereditary succession) bequeathed him a brutal police state that was only rivalled by Saddam's Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran.  No.  It wouldn't be because Syria has been under "emergency rule" or martial law since 1963. It's because his people are united, in hatred at a common enemy.  Nothing Orwellian about that in a one-party police state with an all encompassing personality cult at all is there?  Of course, there are regular tirades about Syria,  its torture practices, executions and how children are abused in its schools from those who damn Mubarak.... or maybe that's just been neglected given how Syria has always been anti-Western and anti-Israeli?  Funny that...

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