Mubarak and the Ghost of Pinochet

Today’s news stories regarding the detention of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak should remind readers of a similar event that transpired over a decade ago with regard to another former repressive leader. Then as now, the individual in question had ruled a nation for several decades, had a military background, and ruled with the full support of his nation’s military establishment, and importantly, with the full support and backing of the CIA. Then, as now the individual in question rose to power following an assassination and ruled with absolute power, imposing harsh penalties on his political opponents and being viewed with disdain by many in the international community, despite their having to do business with him due to the natural resources available in his country.

Both leaders would fall from power and be faced with the prospect of inquiries into their term in office. Then, as now, however, such inquiries are unlikely to materialise due to their past connections with the CIA, which will not permit such dealings to face the light of day.

The other leader I am referring, to is General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, whose term in office and fall from grace mirrors that of Hosni Mubarak. So to, it seems, do both leaders apparent collapse in health in the face of judicial investigation (dementia in the case of Pinochet, heart attacks in the case of Mubarak).

With the involvement of the CIA in Chile and Egypt, a pragmatic, realist interpretation suggests that as with Pinochet, Mubarak will never be allowed to see the inside of an Egyptian court for fear of what may be revealed. In the case of Pinochet fears focused on the assassination of Rene Schneider by the forces of the United Sates and CIA support for Pinochet as a bastion of anti-Communism in South American during the Cold War. In Egypt, the fear revolved around support for Mubarak’s regime, its handing of dissidents, allegations of torture and the Egyptian role in the Rendition policies of recent years.

Now, as in the case of Pinochet, it is almost certain that a former client of the CIA will escape ‘justice’ at the hands of his countrymen, predicated on ill-health, and be able to live out the short time he has left in relative isolation. The degree to which this is any sort of justice, I leave to you to decide.

Obama’s Egyptian Dilemma

Fifty-five years ago, the United States thwarted an effort by the British, French and Israelis to secure the Suez Canal and topple an Egyptian dictator. So here we are once more, face to face with the great dilemma in American foreign policy. People seek change and an end to undemocratic rule. The leadership, desperate to cling on to power, put tanks on the street and attempt to clamp down on the mass protests. Where does America stand? As a nation born of revolution against a perceived tyrannical empire, its natural inclination is to support the masses, but as a global hegemony, it has an interest in a balance of power and fears a domino effect that could have wider and longer lasting impacts than could be perceived by the protesters on the streets.

The scenes in Egypt are alarming for so many reasons. That they follow hot on the heels of the events in Tunisia indicate that in an increasingly interconnected world, the masses will be inspired to take events into their own hands if they see the potential for change. Clearly, change has come to Tunisia. For Egypt to fall to similar tensions would be a seismic shift that should send warning signals to all nations in the region. Uncertainty is the great fear of all diplomats, who seek stability and peaceful evolutionary change, if indeed change is necessary.

Ironically, of course, ‘regime change’ was the ambition of the George W. Bush Administration, but focused on Iraq, certainly not Egypt, a nation that the US sees as a major ally in the middles east, supplying it with billions of dollars in aid and military hardware. Since the Camp David Accords Egypt has been seen as the model ally in the Middle East and vitally the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel. First Sadat and then Mubarak proved to be strong leaders capable of leading Egypt with an iron fist, albeit wrapped in a velvet glove for western consumption, surviving on a mix of tourism and US aid.

America’s great fear is what comes next: The greatest fear must be a repeat of the fall of the Shah and the rise of a theocracy, either directly or as the result of knee-jerk elections. At present this appears unlikely and the benefit to the Mubarak regime is that the protests do not appear to be coalescing around a single opposition figure. For those in Washington attempting to brief the president, the logical figure may well be Elbaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Placed under house arrest this afternoon, he may well be the one figure who could be acceptable to Washington, would signify change in Egypt and prevent the rise of more radical elements that would threaten Egypt’s standing in the west.

Reports say the military and the police are clashing and may appear to be refusing to clamp down on the protests. If Mubarak looses the military, it would appear to be all over for his regime and for his hopes to be succeeded by his son. The longer the situation goes without an appearance from Mubarak, the more isolated and removed he will appear and in such a fluid situation, perception is more important than ever.

Flights into Egypt are starting to be suspended, the Internet is being restricted and the military appears to be on the brink…For the United States, for President Obama and for the Middle East, a great deal is at stake tonight. Get it right, and a new movement for democratic change could be nurtured into existence in a series of nations. Get it wrong, and the entire region could descend into a tinderbox of strife as a new generation seek to redefine the region on their own terms, with or without American approval. The risks therefore extend to the United States and to its place in the world.

The failure of the British to succeed in what became the Suez Canal Crisis ended its aspirations to a continued empire and to the downfall of a British Prime Minister. At the White House, Obama’s in initial statement was a clear example of equivocation. Unusually it is the State Department, headed by Hillary Clinton that has come out with stronger language. If Obama appears impotent or unsure, or hesitant, he will be personally damaged on the world stage. Worse, his actions or any perceived timidity risk the long-term hegemony of the United States. I wonder how all this looks from the vantage point of Beijing?