Uncle Sam on Egypt: The truth in the rhetoric

Published: February 3, 2011

Uncle Sam has a long history of supporting regime change.

The Egyptians are unhappy with Mubarak and the Tunisians have already rid themselves of Ben Ali; the Jordanians succeeded in pushing their monarch and the Yemenis are demonstrating against their long-standing ruler.

There finally is some life in the corpse that has been the Muslim middle-eastern polity. Nonetheless, none of these ‘revolutions’ would have been possible without the tacit approval of the US, that bi-polar policeman of a uni-polar world.

Uncle Sam tells you what you want to hear

Uncle Sam has a long history of supporting regime change in various parts of the world from Cuba to Iran, Iraq and Pakistan as well as Egypt. There is always a catch though – the support of populist movements by the US is often clothed in idealistic rhetoric but the rationale is always underpinned by realist political thought.

The talk coming out of the White House, at least from President Obama, ticks all the boxes that would thrill an idealist:

Freedom? Check.

Power to the people? Check.

Respect the human and political rights of protestors? Check.

Democracy? Check.

Hillary plays ‘bad cop’

Look again though, and you will see Hillary Clinton piping up with a different tune: that America would be unhappy with an Islamist or rightist movement coming into power in Egypt. Now, I would be the last person to argue for an Islamist government based on my political leanings but I find it unproductive for the United States to say one thing and mean another.

Such realpolitik may have been acceptable in an era when the average citizen was less aware and had less access to media, but not today. When an Egyptian sees the US president’s support for their freedom movement to rid themselves of a despot, he also hears a pre-emptive judgment passed by Clinton, on who the US would not want to see filling that power vacuum.

Egypt should decide, not America

Egypt has had a long history with the Muslim Brotherhood and regardless of their social agenda (which I do not agree with, and which has softened over the years), they have contributed to the uplift of the Egyptian society.

They have made and manned hospitals and schools in areas where the government was absent and have consequently earned the goodwill of the people. If there are free and fair elections, and the Brotherhood is the choice of the Egyptian people, then that should be good enough for America. Realpolitik substantially harms the goodwill that the people of these countries may or may not feel for the US.

Over the years, be it Mossadegh or Allende, the United States, in terms of tangible action, has compromised idealist rhetoric at the altar of realist political expedience. They do want democracy, but only if those parties are in power who align with their political ideology.

Practice what you preach

Consequently, the Justice and Development party (AKP) in Turkey raises eyebrows in the US but a ‘liberal dictator’ like Pervez Musharraf does not claw at the conscience of the American political machinery. What they need to do is abandon their political equivocation and align their actions with their words. They need to do more to win the “hearts and minds” of the world – the Muslim and Arabs in particular.


Waqqas Iftikhar

An economist who works in a foreign bank in Karachi. He writes about sports.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/143/taha-kerar/ Taha Kehar


  • Zubair Umar

    Who told you they want to win hearts and minds, they are interested in maintaining control and safeguarding their strategic interests. They will use every dirty trick in the book to do so and if they were even remotely serious about winning hearts and minds, they would start by changing the dynamics of their relationship with Israel. Any effort to reach out to the Arab masses without doing so is useless.Recommend

  • Gia

    So what? If the US didn’t have the sense to play politics like it does we may all be over run by dictators. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

    I’m happy the communists didn’t win. Stop ragging on Uncle Sam – he pays for everything!Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    @Gia, this is not a normative piece – what i am trying to say is that its damaging for the US to continue this stance since it is easier for the populace to see through the gulf between words and actions….Recommend

  • Zubair Umar

    Gia, the Arab world IS over-run by dictators who are more compliant to the US then a democratic government could ever be. No need to give the US any credit, everything is a means to an end. Even now in Egypt, they are trying to accomodate for the changing dynamics to make sure that they have friendly voices amongst whoever is in control once this situation subsides. They couldnt care less about enforcing democracy anywhere, thats just rhetoric which is regurgitated over and over.

    As far as uncle sam paying for everything is concerned, have you seen how indebted uncle sam is? Technically its the Chinese and Japanese who are paying for everything.Recommend

  • Amna

    Totally agree with this. Saddam was a dictator, and so the American govt wanted to make sure the Iraqi people got freedom and democracy. but now since its Mubarak in Eypt, and even though he is a dictator, the Americans love him, so they feel totally different about freedom and democracy in Egypt. hypocritical.Recommend

  • Saad

    The history of US politics is bursting with these kinds of forays into other countries’ politics, but leaders (of the Muslim world particularly) who are willing to fall in line with America just to extend their tenures are just as much to blame too. Agree with the writer that US needs to stop acting God and let people make their own choices. Recommend

  • Arnold

    While this article is brilliantly written, and my sentiments mostly mirror those of my friend here, I disagree with him when he says that the US (read West) should practice what it preaches. The US owes the world nothing ! It does, like any sane country should, what is in its own best interest. If a country has the power to do so- it should…. and if any country has to power to stand up to the US- it should ! China is one example. The Middle East earns no special favor… It should grow a pair and do what it wants …. however it wants, regardless of what the west thinks … or what gulf exists between the actions and words of the west. The Middle east should stop looking to the west and blame it for all that is wrong in its own region ! Maybe then it will pull itself out of the mess it’s in ! Recommend