Obama and Egypt: actions speak louder than words?
While welcoming Obama’s Cairo speech for potentially sparking a renewal of Arab democratic discourse, activists like publisher and human rights activist Hisham Kassem are concerned less with what Obama says than what he does.
In this respect, concerns were voiced at today’s Capitol Hill meeting discussing how new authoritarians are undermining democracy when conservative and liberal panelists alike expressed concern that the administration had not only slashed funding for civil society programs in Egypt but agreed to channel U.S. government funds only to NGOs officially-approved by the Mubarak regime.
Liberal Democratic analyst Peter Beinart accepted that security concerns and other diplomatic imperatives meant that governments often have to make “real and ugly trade-offs”. But the NGO funding cuts were “troubling” especially since the Mubarak regime had little leverage over the U.S. and no other strategic options.
For all the rhetorical flourishes of the Freedom Agenda, George W. Bush had signally failed to consistently promote democracy – not least in Egypt, said Robert Kagan. It would be perverse if the Obama administration decided “that it should not promote democracy because the Bush administration had made such a bad job of promoting democracy,” he said.
The Washington Institute’s Rob Satloff makes the observation that the president implicitly entered the political debate between liberals and Islamists within Muslim societies and, “either by design or by inattention”, came down in favor of the latter:
Islamist parties across the region will cheer the fact that Obama cited only two benchmarks for U.S. recognition of Islamist parties, i.e., “peaceful and law-abiding,” when the content of their message and the values they project — including the imposition of sharia (Islamic law) — can often be antithetical to our own. He made no reference to the frequent cooperation of autocrats and Islamists in denying political space to non-Islamist political parties, especially liberals who often do share American values.