Check my new book out New Beginning in US-Muslim Relations: President Obama and the Arab Awakening at Palgrave Macmillan official website.
This book carries out a comparative study of the US response to popular uprisings in the Middle East as an evaluation of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy commitments. In 2009, Obama publicly pledged “a new beginning in US-Muslim relations,” causing eager expectation of a clear shift in US foreign policy after the election of the 44th president of the United States. However, the achievement of such a shift was made particularly difficult by the existence of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, US interests in the region which influenced the Obama administration’s response to the popular uprisings in five Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. After providing a detailed analysis of the traditional features of both US foreign policy rhetoric and practice, this book turns its focus to the Obama administration’s response to the 2011 Arab Awakening to determine whether Obama’s foreign policy has indeed brought about a new beginning in US-Muslim relations.
Enjoy your reading!
It seems to me that more than three years of political and social upheaval, the forced removal of two presidents (Mubarak and Morsi), thousands of deaths, and continued blatant violations of human rights have done nothing to change the Obama administration’s perception of Egyptian politics.
During the early stage of the 2011 uprising, after violent clashes between demonstrators and Egyptian security forces had left hundreds injured and dozens dead, US President Obama said:
“The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free, and more hopeful.”
Mohammed ElBaradei, a former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a prominent Egyptian opposition figure, replied that “the American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy.”
The other day, despite the recent release of a Human Rights Watch report suggesting that senior Egyptian officials, including Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, were implicated in what the report deemed the “widespread and systematic” killings of peaceful protesters, the US State Department reaffirmed that the Obama administration still believes that President el-Sisi is leading a democratic transition in Egypt.
Apparently, contrary to what ElBaradei and the Egyptian people have understood too well – that is that leaders who disregards human rights and democratic principles cannot be expected to lead democratic transitions – the US administration still clings to the hope that such transitions could actually occur and could even serve the US national interest.
On this last point I suggest to read this article by Michelle Dunne on “Egypt, Counterterrorism, and the Politics of Alienation”
Last Tuesday, the New York-based human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the unrest that followed the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by the military on 3 July 2013. The 188-page report is the result of a year-long investigation by the human rights group.
Perhaps its major finding is that senior Egyptian officials, including Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, were implicated in what the report calls the “widespread and systematic” killings of protesters. HRW also found that the killings of demonstrators by the police and the armed forces “likely amounted to crimes against humanity.” The report finally argues that official statements released during the unrest makes clear that the attacks “were ordered by the government”.
The entire text of the report can be accessed here: All According to Plan
The findings of the HRW report begs the question:
Where was the international community when these “crimes against humanity” occurred?
On 14 August 2013, after the Egyptian security forces’ deadly attacks against Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators examined in the HRW report, then-Vice President for International Affairs Mohamed ElBaradei submitted his resignation. ElBaradei explained that:
“I believed that there were acceptable
peaceful alternatives to resolve our societal confrontation that could have stood a chance at achieving national reconciliation,” he added. “Violence begets violence, and mark my words, the only beneficiaries from what happened today are extremist groups.”
After the ousting of Col. Qaddafi, Libya has experienced a constant state of instability. The latest round of confrontations marring the North African country pits forces loyal to a former Libyan military officer, Khalifa Heftar, against a number of Islamist militias. Ongoing violent confrontations in Libya recently spurred the United States to evacuate its staff from the US embassy in Tripoli.
Following are two interesting articles providing opposite assessments about the overall effect of the 2011 UN-sponsored NATO-led military intervention in Libya.
Conor Friedersdorf on The Atlantic criticizes the “successfulness” of 2011 intervention:
Most of all, I am struck by the willingness of prominent interventionists to have publicly declared their instincts in Libya vindicated when the country’s future remained very much in doubt, as if they couldn’t conceive of an intervention that would result in more lives lost than the alternative even as the possibility of that outcome was extremely plausible. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Washington, D.C. foreign-policy establishment seemed to perform no better at foreseeing how events would unfold than non-expert commentators who simply applied Murphy’s Law.
Hisham Matar on The New Yorker presents a different view:
Those who regret the end of Qaddafi’s regime ignore how the current chaos is the product of four decades of oppression. ‘Wasn’t Qaddafi better?’ is the wrong question, because it doesn’t illuminate the objective reality of post-revolutionary Libya. To understand today’s events, one must remember what life was like under Qaddafi. The state was designed around an individual and his family; it resembled more a Mafia than a political structure. And so ending the dictatorship meant ending the state […] In light of this history, creating a political atmosphere that permits and encourages difference and plurality will be difficult
F. Gregory Gause, III recently wrote an analysis paper for Brookings Institution on what he called The New Middle East Cold War. According to Gause, this new cold war shares many similarities with Malcom Kerr’s Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s.
With regard to the role of the United States, Gause suggests that:
Has freedom of expression in Egypt increased after more than three years since the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak?
The answer to this question is especially relevant if we consider that historically Egypt has maintained a reputation as a leader in media production in the region of the Middle East. Hence, developments in Egypt are likely to have significant effects in the broader region.
According to a paper by Rasha Abdulla at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Egypt continues to struggle with an authoritarian media sector and constraints on freedom of expression.“
Three are the main findings in Abdulla’s paper:
- Successive Egyptian regimes following the revolution have taken steps to limit freedom of expression and control the narrative in Egyptian media coverage.
- Hopes for a more professional media sector have been dashed by a state media apparatus that has for all intents and purposes supported whatever regime is in power, private media outlets influenced by wealthy owners with ties to the Mubarak regime, and severe polarization between Islamist and non-Islamist media outlets.
- Social media played a key role in the January 25 revolution, and this platform has provided new avenues for expressing critical views, challenging established media entities, and organizing against the government.
This is yet another telling example of the great difficulties that Arab countries are constantly facing in achieving real change and reform after the 2011 popular uprisings. Hopefully, the old saying “Rome wasn’t built in day” will prove right also for them.