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Riots in Egypt: President Obama Must Choose Between Support of Hosni Mubarak and Protesters' Cause

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
January 29, 2011
New York Daily News

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As protests spread against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Obama administration faces a choice: which side of history does it want to be on?

Does the United States want to support a dictator to the end, or does it stand with protesters demanding relief from decades of emergency rule, police torture, corruption and economic stagnation?

The administration already missed a chance to show the Arab world that it can live up to its rhetoric. President Obama failed to speak out in support of Tunisia's popular uprising until it was too late - after Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country.

Political realists will argue that favoring stability and long-term allies like Mubarak is more essential to America's national interests than the uncertain and difficult task of promoting an inclusive democracy. But if we have learned anything over the past few weeks, it is that the status quo in the Arab world is not stable.

With Egypt, Obama has another chance to fundamentally change the Arab world's perception of America. If he can make the United States a more sympathetic power - a country that invests in people, and not their dictators - that will better serve U.S. interests and security in the long run.

On Friday, Obama said he had urged Mubarak to take "concrete steps" and live up to his promise to provide freedom and security for Egyptians. "He has a responsibility to give meaning to those words," Obama said. But that's not enough: Mubarak has broken many promises to reform.

Egypt is ruled by one of the most oppressive regimes in the Middle East. Mubarak has clung to power since 1981, under emergency laws that allow him to imprison thousands of dissidents without charge or trial, to muzzle the press and to stifle peaceful political activity. Mubarak's regime receives nearly $1.5 billion a year in U.S. assistance, making it the second-highest beneficiary of American foreign aid after Israel.

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