The US has put its boot on the scale

by Natasha Iskander, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, NYU. 10:42 pm Saturday February 5. Professor Iskander is Egyptian-American and works on development in the Middle East and North Africa. The millions of protestors have been clear: “The people want the fall of the regime! Mubarak leave!”  The responses of the US to unambiguous calls from the Egyptian people for the right to determine their own future have not only been deeply condescending, but also represent a dangerous collusion with the regime.

Omar Suleiman, spy-chief turned VP, has pledged to steward an “orderly transition,” but has refused to begin dismantling a political system that has for thirty years bolstered kleptocracy and oppression.  He has postponed meeting with a group of prominent intellectuals, businessmen, and analysts who have reached out to negotiate a transition.

Instead, he has told the protestors to go home; even more disdainfully, he has told the parents of protestors to tell their children to go home.  In other words, the massive protests that are a revolution unfolding should not be taken seriously; they are merely instances of adolescent acting-out.  Obama, perhaps unwittingly, has fed that spin: “To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices” he said on February 1.   We hear your voices, but we will not listen.  Instead, the US government will continue to back a dictatorship and the security apparatus that has made it possible. “Transition takes some time… There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare,” said Clinton today, presenting her recommendations as so eminently reasonable, so adult and measured in contrast to the protestors’ demands for Mubarak to resign immediately, now spun as rash and destabilizing.

Meanwhile, Suleiman refused today to repeal the Emergency Law that has been in force in Egypt since 1981 and which gives the authorities legal right to hold anyone without cause, to detain those arrested indefinitely, and to prevent public assembly (protests!).  “At a time like this?” responded Suleiman when Abdel-Nour, the secretary general of the meek opposition Wafd Party, suggested its repeal.  Yes, time is precisely what is at stake. There are seven months between now and the elections that Suleiman still maintains will be held in September, and that is plenty of time to detain, torture, and disappear anyone who has defended this revolution.  It is more than enough time to recast the millions who flooded the streets of all of Egypt’s major cities to demand an end to dictatorship and the right to elect their leaders as enemies of the people who need to be eliminated.

If the US continues to feign naivite and argue that transition is indeed happening, it will -- under the guise of adult reasonableness -- have gifted the regime with the time to brutalize citizens who have peacefully and respectfully voiced their demands to be treated as adults with the right to determine their own futures in a country that has consistently and strategically infantilized them.