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Stealing Egypt's revolution
The people on the streets of Cairo got rid of their old enemy, Hosni Mubarak. Now they should be wary of new friends.
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2011 07:05
Western diplomacy - and dollars - have propped up regimes at odds with democracy, in the name of "stability", for decades.  As dictators fall, citizens must be sure of whose advice they now listen to [GALLO/GETTY]

How ironic! A regime that has been sustained since 1979 by US funds to the tune of $2billion annually - and functioned in the interest of Western governments - falls, and we see a sudden deluge of statements welcoming the long overdue change in the country, applauding the bravery of the Egyptian people and even demonising Hosni Mubarak.

One could be fooled into believing the transformation currently taking place in Egypt is one that has been fought for by Western governments for years already - a long-sought change finally materialising.

Who would say that successive US, British and European governments have long argued that Egyptians, indeed all Arabs, are not ready for democracy - that "special circumstances" demand the denial of democracy, and that the brutality visited on them for thirty years was better than the risk of a free vote?

Until just two weeks ago, the newfound friends of the Egyptian revolution claimed - through the person of Hillary Clinton, no less - that Mubarak was the right man to lead a transformation of Egypt's politics, being the "reliable and stable" figure he has been for the past thirty years.  At the same time Tony Blair, Middle East envoy of these same Euro-Atlantic powers called Mubarak "immensely courageous and a force for good".

Pontius Pilate has surely washed his hands of the ancien regime, and has now thrown his arms wide open to the Egyptian people.

The revolution belongs to Egyptians

The expropriation of the Egyptian revolution by the Euro-Atlantic axis has begun, and the Egyptian people should be alert to the dangers of this underhand attempt to steal their revolution and blunt its transformative potential.

After Mubarak's forced departure - it was no resignation, the people kicked him out - one of the first speeches beamed to the protestors in Tahrir Square was a live feed of Obama's response to Mubarak's expulsion. Eloquent as ever, Obama - in one move - distanced the US from its faithful servant, and embraced the Egyptian revolution.

His offer of assistance to promote democracy in Egypt is telling. Soon we will witness the influx of Euro-Atlantic advisors, NGOs and all types of specialists telling Egyptians what "democracy" is, and how to practice it. The Egyptian people, who sacrificed themselves and their kin, refused to be cowed into submission by the violence visited upon them by the "stable and reliable" Mubarak regime - and who ultimately succeeded in expelling this servant of Washington - know perfectly well what democracy is, and how to practice it. They have just held the first real Egyptian people's plebiscite in more than thirty years, voting Mubarak out of office with their feet and voices.

Western fear of alternatives

The embrace of the West is reminiscent of a similar experience in South Africa in the early 1990s, as the surge toward democracy and an end to the brutal apartheid regime became unstoppable. Suddenly the revolutionary movement found itself embraced by new friends in the British, US and West German governments. These same governments had previously sustained the apartheid regime for forty years, claiming that black South Africans, like Egyptians, were not ready for democracy.

They also preferred the brutal regime to what they alleged to be the "terrible alternative of a communist-inspired resistance movement", even though the latter had the obvious and overwhelming support of South Africans. As in the case of Egypt, the Euro-Atlantic axis assisted the apartheid regime through training its security forces, providing it with intelligence - such as the CIA information that led to the arrest and incarceration of Nelson Mandela for 27 years - and providing the regime with diplomatic support in the United Nations.

The post-1990 embrace of the South African revolution took the same form as Obama's promised "democracy assistance" to the Egyptian people. Advisors, training courses and policy specialists told us that democracy equals Western liberal democracy and free market economics. Our political leadership, for the most part, returned the embrace of the West with an unqualified acceptance of its authenticity and sincerity - adopting the common wisdom of Washington Consensus political and economic policy.

The results are clear for all to see: South Africa has become an even more unequal society and economic growth has benefited local and international business, while unemployment remains exceptionally high.

The Egyptian people have shown the world that anything is possible when a united people are committed to the realisation of an idea. They should not listen uncritically to their newfound friends, who will first congratulate them on the enormity of their achievement - and then tell them that some things are just not doable; who will tell them they must not be unrealistic in their expectations, and must inevitably settle for less.

Unless the Egyptian movement for change remains alert and continues to assert its political independence, this embrace will squeeze the life out of the revolution and turn it into a polished version of the recently departed Mubarak regime - a new democratic order that, again, prioritises the interest of Washington, London, Berlin and Tel Aviv over that of the Egyptian people.

David Africa is principal associate at research and training consultancy Africa-Analysis.org and a graduate student at the University of Cambridge.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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