A transfer’s troubles

by Beacon Staff • February 17, 2011

Beacon Contributor 

Over the past three weeks, we watched millions of Egyptians struggle against their government in a quest for democracy.

On Feb. 11, protesters celebrated as Hosni Mubarak resigned his post and handed power over to the military. The Huffington Post declared the people’s revolution in Egypt a “success.” But while there is cause for jubilation, it is ill-premised to consider that a revolt is all that is needed to birth a democracy.

Egypt’s military, now the governing power, vowed a transition to democracy “as soon as possible,” according to an article in Saturday’s New York Times.

The military assured that all existing international treaties would be honored during this phase. This allows Israel and Saudi Arabia to breathe a sigh of relief.

Still, the Middle East remains a precarious place as nearby countries succumb to waves of protests against autocratic governments.

The U.S. has worked to spread democracy for decades. But we have proven to be masters of masking idealism with capitalist interests. Students are right to be skeptical of the Obama Administration’s vocal support for Egypt’s transition into peaceful democracy. The United States generally favors pragmatism over idealism. We proclaim to have an allegiance to universal democracy, but our behavior follows our business interests.

We have seen this in our relationship with China and our ongoing dialogue concerning human rights. We urge China to allow its citizen’s the freedom of speech and to release dissidents like Liu Xiaobo, but in the end, economic interests prevail.

American officials have sat down with opposition parties of questionable Western loyalties. Their primary concern has been the Muslim Brotherhood and gauging its anti-Israeli sentiments. The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s most powerful non-governmental opposition party in Egypt. It currently seeks to be a legitimate party within the future parliament but does not seek to field a presidential candidate. Even if the Brotherhood did want a shot at power, only 15 percent of Egyptians would actually vote for the Brotherhood during elections.

News outlets in America have continued to sell the improbable scenario in which the Muslim Brotherhood and religious extremists take power in Egypt. But according to Tuesday’s New York Times, a panel of jurists have been appointed to revise Egypt’s constitution, including Sobhi Saleh, a legal expert for the Brotherhood. Another member, Maher Samy Youssef, will be representing Coptic Christians.

These two appointments seem to imply Egypt’s military and intellectuals are willing to put aside their religious differences in order to pursue a freer state.

Throughout the 18 day conflict, there were reports of Christians allowing Muslims into their homes to pray in safety from the surrounding chaos. Religious differences were forgotten by the universal need for bread on the table and the right to speak freely.

But media outlets sell the prospect of sectarian violence to disguise the true motive for U.S. hesitation: Its economic agenda.

So how is the United States backing expediency? The U.S. has donated $2 billion a year in military aid to Egypt since 1979, according to ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization. In return, Egypt exports 89,000 barrels of crude oil a day, while also operating and owning the Suez Canal.  Roughly 2.4 million barrels travel through the canal each day, making each of the 19.4 million barrels the U.S. consumes that much easier.

Do the math. Would it be in the United States’ interest to allow conflict to erupt and gamble with the ownership of the Suez canal? There is a lot of money invested in Egypt. The market value of corporations based in Egypt is listed at over $90 billion, according to Arabian Construction Week . Money speaks volumes, and the U.S. grows more tense as our gallons of gas become more expensive.

Of course, this doesn’t matter to the Egyptian poor, who take up 44 percent of the population. We support their quest for social freedom and employment. But we are wary of their anti-Israeli sentiment and the consequences recent events may have on oil imports.

We must choose to either honor their quest for democracy or continue forward in our own best interests.