Egypt Deserves Better from U.S. Senate

A Senate resolution condemning Egypt’s record on human rights and free elections has sparked an aggressive Washington lobbying campaign by the longtime U.S. ally, which argues that the measure could harm the Middle East peace process and its relationship with the United States …

Reports of heavy-handedness under Egyptian President Mubarak are hardly news. The west has long been aware of a spotted human rights record in Egypt, which occasionally lurches outside western comfort zones into abusive security excesses long regarded here as smacking of totalitarianism. We make no apologies for these excesses here, and we cannot possibly minimize the real threats these pose to freedom and democratic process in Egypt.

How bad is it for freedom over there?

Middle East: According to a US-based Freedom House “freedom scale 2010”, Egypt ranks 6 in political freedom and 5 in civil liberties, on a scale of 1 to 10.¬† Iran ranks worse, at 6/6; Libya weighs in at the regional bottom at 7/7, and even Saudi Arabia ranks worse at 7/6. Israel alone stands high with a ranking of 1/2.

Americas: By contrast, Venezuela and Haiti vie for next-to-last place with rankings of 5/4 and 4/5, respectively. Cuba easily secures “worst place” with its freedom ranking of 7/6 (put that way, “as bad as Saudi Arabia.”) Ten countries weigh in at a “perfect” 1/1, including the U.S., Canada, Uruguay and the many Commonwealth and former UK protectorate nations.

According to these empirical freedom rankings, our ally Egypt ranks as very average for freedom in the Middle East  & North Africa region, better than our trading partner Saudi Arabia, but with plenty of room for improvement. Trading partner China, in the process of global modernization, receives a 2010 ranking of 7/6 Рnumerically the same rating as Saudi Arabia.

Egypt has long been the US’s staunchest ally among Arab countries in that region of the Middle East. From the 1978 Sadat/Begin Camp David accords to present-day buffering of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Egypt has long endured a precarious and thankless tightrope walk for peace in the Mideast.

While the U.S. State Department continues more traditional diplomatic efforts to effect change in the region, requiring tactfully worded proposals and confidential negotiations, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee offers the international community a willingness to torpedo all that with confrontational language:

“Authorities in Egypt continue to harass, intimidate, arbitrarily detain and engage in violence against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, human rights activists, and bloggers,” the resolution says. Read more:

From what all of us here can see in the statistics and periodic media reports, there is no reason to doubt that the Senate accusations are true, and Egypt needs to clean up its civil rights act. But if the intention of the U.S. Senate resolution is to effect change, this is not the way to go about it.

It must come as a vast ongoing disappointment to Middle America that, despite our stated wishes it were otherwise, no country in the Middle East region truly enjoys the full civil rights and representational forms of government we take for granted here in the United States.

Be that as it may, it is the political reality. This situation’s hardly confined to the Middle East, as the “rankings” suggested. We’re going to argue these sorts of fundamental international differences are exactly why the diplomatic community was established, is needed, and will always be needed. We need to learn to “suck it up” and deal with reality as a responsible member of the international community.

The Senate’s very publicly outspoken attacks on U.S. neighbors and our allies, coming as they do from one part of the U.S. governmental apparatus while undermining efforts of other U.S. agencies and allies, have long been an international source of perplexity, embarrassment and irritation.

If one may draw a simple parallel to dissension and conflict within an extended family: if Uncle Joe learns of marital discord in private discussion with his wife, or in counseling, there is a chance the family can heal itself. If Uncle Joe finds out about these problems through the grapevine, his workplace, or even in the press, the marriage has been betrayed. It is as good as doomed.

The Senate resolution, authored by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., has garnered particular attention in Cairo because of its prominent list of backers. Co-sponsors include Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), the former GOP presidential nominee; Dick Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic majority whip; Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. Read more:

Our suggestion to Senators McCain, Lieberman et al: clean up your own house before throwing stones. Here is a resolution that rings hollow to the ear. The current sitting Congress is arguably one of the most dysfunctional in the last 150 years.

  • It is one thing, a grand and fine thing, to denounce great tyrants in spirited Churchillian oratory. Churchill warned a self-preoccupied and isolationist free world against the threat of Hitler’s war machine.
  • Senatorial trading of pot-shots with the insanities of the Ahmadinejad Iranian regime: fine.
  • U.S. media exposes and in-depth analysis of the middle east: vital.

International diplomacy does require the fine art of negotiating with other states with whom we do not always necessarily agree, and negotiations with allies do require all of the arcane arts of diplomacy, rather than the heavy-handed negotiation by public denunciation and ultimatum, which we reserve for enemies.

It is useless for sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism while wolves remain of a different opinion. — Inge’s Axiom

The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations performs an indispensably vital role in shaping foreign policy. What we are saying is that foreign policy resolutions aimed at our own allies, with whom the State Department has established a working relationship, should not be sabotaged by other agencies of the U.S. government.

We suggest that singling out of Egypt for senatorial scolding, when their track record on freedom is actually better than that of our trading partners Saudi Arabia and China, must necessarily come across as hypocritical, overbearing and even cowardly to much of the rest of the world.

Whenever possible, when dealing with allies, the Senate should resist its tendency toward self-aggrandizement in favor of allowing our country to present a concerted single voice in foreign policy negotiations. We hire experts for such negotiations. Why would we torpedo them?

This sort of matter should be handled by, or at least through, the State Department. To do otherwise is to give the U.S. the international appearance of the same dysfunction we so deplore, and regularly denounce, in our enemies.

879 total views, 3 views today