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Egypt: Another Lesson in the Failures of U.S. Policy

February 1, 2011

The rebellion in the streets of Egypt is fascinating and inspiring to watch — an uprising against autocratic rule that reportedly isn’t being led by any of the organized opposition figures or parties. I don’t know much about Egypt, but I’ve been inspired by the strengthen of this non-violent movement that Monday night led the Egyptian military to declare it would not use force against the protestors.

Former FCNL Friend in Washington Helena Cobban reminds us in her very good postings at Just World News of the context for this rebellion and the decades of repression funded by U.S. military aid. I also appreciate  her  very good piece on the recent non-violent activity by the Muslim Brotherhood (see also this piece by a former CIA agent and this other piece). I don’t know much about  Egyptian politics, but I do think the demonstrators have a point when they express anger at successive United States governments that for decades has offered almost unconditional political and military support for an Egyptian state that has denied the majority of people freedom of political expression.

As the U.S. government struggles to craft a new policy toward Egypt, my sense is that part of the problem is our government’s policy remains grounded in a Cold War approach that starts with the simple premise that “if you are not with us, you are against us.”  Dividing the world into simplistic categories of friends and enemies made no sense during the Cold War and it makes no sense today.

What do I mean by a “Cold War” approach? In Africa (which is the area I know better than the Middle East) during the Cold War, many  individuals, communities and movements struggling for their own liberation from oppression were drawn to the United States because of the American ideals of freedom of expression, liberty, and democracy.  Yet when those African liberation movement leaders sought to reach out to the United States government they were rebuffed and told the U.S. government supported the colonial or neo-colonial powers that were often defending U.S. corporate interests in Africa. Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, for instance, then turned to the Soviet Union for support.

The “new” foreign policy frame that is popular in the United States is to divide the world into countries that are with Osama Bin Laden and countries that are with the United States.  Yes, I’m exaggerating a little here to make a point, but sadly I’m not exaggerating very much.

Whatever happens in Egypt, I hope the events in Egypt persuade people in the United States to take a hard look at the  Cold War-style foreign policy that divides the world into countries that are “with us” or “against us.”  In the coming decades, the United States needs to move away from a policy that seeks to control world events through alliances based on U.S. domination and control in favor of a policy that focuses on cooperation and seeking policies that will benefit all countries rather than just a few.

My own perhaps idealistic sense is that President Barack Obama understood this point instinctively. Yet the president has so far been unable or willing to organize the government in that direction and he lacks a popular movement in this country that would support such a new political approach. Events in Egypt will be decided by the people in Egypt. What we at FCNL need to do in the United States, is continue to build a movement that will change the focus of U.S. foreign policy.

  1. Ellen N. Duell permalink
    February 1, 2011 9:06 am

    Reality shows that our land is one among many on our earth. I believe good will and cooperation will bring health and good living to more people than capitalism’s premise of competition. There is “Green America”, formerly “Working Assets”, one co-operative among many; farmers’ markets, “CSA’s”–(Community Supported Agriculture)–lots of excellent choices for a good, not a wealthy, life.

  2. Bill Martin permalink
    February 1, 2011 8:19 pm

    Nice piece. one big difference between the cold war and now: in the cold war the US could, as during the 1956 suez crisis, dictate terms to the region and US allies. those days are long gone–and that is good for the people of egypt and the region.

  3. Tom Ewell permalink
    February 2, 2011 12:11 am

    In the midst of all the political commentary and analysis let us not forget that what is happening in Egypt is an essentially non-violent revolution. Like the nonviolent revolutions in India, the Philippines, South Africa, Liberia, Yugoslavia, India, the Ukraine, and most recently Tunisia, a ruthless police state is being overturned without a prolonged, devastating war. Egypt will not be left in physical, social and cultural shambles like Iraq, and it will not struggle with centuries of resentments and recriminations that follow the war in the Balkans and our own civil war. Non-violent revolutions reveal and remind us that courage, sacrifice, hope, and dignity are forces more powerful than hatred, brutality and warfare. And they make it possible for us to believe that there are honorable and viable alternatives to war.

  4. Mary Liz Burris permalink
    February 2, 2011 3:25 pm

    I am wondering, Jim, if your family used to live in Naperville, Illinois? Thannks for your blog.

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