Double Standards Brigade Goes to Egypt

UPDATE 8:45am 2/2/11: NYT: US policy is stuck one step behind popular movement for democracy Update 5pm: Joe Biden, oops I mean Hosni Mubarak, says he will not run for re-election in Egypt

UPDATE 8:45AM: much heavier heavyweights with similar criticisms of Double Standards (see end of post)

I want to thank all the major world leaders who have worked so hard during the past few days to confirm my own personal thesis that the Development/Foreign Policy Establishment has a Double Standard on Democracy for rich and poor nations.

I never would have thought that a cringingly catchy slogan like "Democracy is for Rich People, Not for Egypt People" would have so many takers.

UN News has helpfully posted where Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stands:

Asked directly what concrete steps he thinks President Hosni Mubarak should take to show that he is listening to the voices of the people of Egypt and if he thinks the appointment of a new Government is sufficient, Mr. Ban replied: “I would leave it to the Egyptian leaders.”

This blog already gave Secretary of State Clinton grief over the weekend for using the well-known “transition” rhetorical maneuver to avoid taking any position.

At least Vice President Joe Biden took a position.  On the PBS News Hour, Jim Lehrer asked Biden:

Has the time come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?

Biden said no. Lehrer pressed further:

Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?

Biden helpfully explained:

Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.

Rich nations need to respect the rights of their citizens to avoid the “dictator” label, but in poor nations all you need is to be a US ally.

This is perfectly consistent with US policy in the previous administration, when (at-the-time) Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, according to a recent opinion on English Al Jazeera,

rebuffed attempts by local journalists to get him to admit to a double standard in calling for human rights without actually supporting them in countries like Tunisia and Egypt.

One has to feel sorry for Mr. Zoellick, who may someday win recognition for being stuck on the wrong side of democratic history twice. Now as World Bank President, Mr. Zoellick presides over an institution whose Egypt page on the Internet today has a helpful summary on “10 Things you may not know about the World Bank in Egypt.” This includes this affirmation of democracy in Egypt:

Through consultations processes, participation and community driven development projects, the Bank engages in active dialogue with and promotes initiative among various stakeholder groups to enhance the quality of its work and acquire a sharper focus on its mission to alleviate poverty.

OK, frankly, this post doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry about the Double Standards on shameful display for Egypt, for the Arab World, for the developing countries in general.

Couldn’t we find somebody to draw upon the words from our own democratic history to say something like:

let’s speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Christians and Muslims, rich and poor, will be able to join hands and say “Free at last! Free at last!”

UPDATE 8:45am  Great columns in this morning's papers by Nick Kristof, David Brooks, and Gideon Rachman making related and far more eloquent criticisms .