Foreign Policy

Post-Mubarak Egypt: From successful protest to sustainable social transformation

Before January 25, 2011, Egyptians had no political ambition. On Saturday, they did.

The Egyptian people were united in chanting “down with the regime.” That is what they got on February 11, 2011 after a three-week standoff with the head of that very regime. Now that the president has stepped down, and handed over his powers to a military council, Egyptians must deal with a new challenge: state building, and institution-building. Aside from being a tedious process, this will also be an anxious process.

As the dust has settles and the euphoria of victory has passed, it will become clear how much in Egypt has been broken and needs short-term fixing and long-term transformation. Not least of this is the constitution, which is said to have at least 25 articles that need to change if it is not scrapped in its entirety.

The immediate amendments to the constitution involve the short-term political transition, and will impact who is able to stand for candidacy in the autumn of 2011 as well as who should monitor the election and guarantee its fairness. With the military council suspending the constitution on Feb. 13, the road is now paved for constitutional reform to take place.


Real Arab reform begins with the media

Constitutional law, an unfettered judiciary, civil rights and unions are all unfamiliar concepts to Arabs. And a free press, the platform to create real reform, has not been allowed to survive in the Arab world.

Yet if there is a clear lesson to take from the protests that toppled the Egyptian government on Friday, as well as the Tunisian government in January, it is that media outlets can play a powerful role in advancing the rights of individuals, and that repressive Arab governments will go to great lengths to halt progress.

In Egypt, the government shut down social networking and media websites that allowed protesters to organize. This was followed by a nationwide shutdown of Internet and mobile phone networks. Governments know how powerful the media can be, and will go to great lengths to keep that power in the hands of the ruling elite. 


Iran's crisis amid Middle East turmoil

As the Islamic regime of Iran gears up this week to celebrate its 32nd anniversary, the people of Iran face monumental economic challenges similar to those faced by other countries in the region like Tunisia and Egypt. The economy is feeling the sting of sanctions with shortages, unemployment, layoffs and inflation fears creating a widening gap between the regime and the people. Indeed, the regime is facing its toughest challenge – its 32-year monopoly may be about to be busted wide open.

Theoretically, Iran should be ranked among the world’s top five economies (assuming an average annual 10 percent growth rate since 1978). Unfortunately, the reality is that over 30 percent of its citizens struggle to survive and live below the poverty line.  


Mubarak, what are you waiting for?

CAIRO – President Hosni Mubarak killed 80 million Egyptians in cold blood. He has turned into a dinosaur after more than 30 years in office. He refuses to listen or see or feel. He has lost contact with the outer world. 

After his announcement yesterday, I can smell blood in the air. On Friday, there will be blood everywhere when youth march toward the presidential palace. It started last night, some toward the palace, others toward the local television building. More Egyptians will be killed Friday. It will be a massacre. 


The State of the Union? It depends.

On Tuesday, President Obama laid out his plan for America: one million electric cars by 2015 and 80% of energy from renewable sources by 2035. “At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else,” he said. Clearly, these industries must be based in America.

Yet there is a problem. We are dependent on China for many of the raw materials that allow us to build electric car motors, low-energy light bulbs, solar photovoltaics, and wind turbines – like rare earth metals.

China needs those resources for itself. President Obama told us that “Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.” China has also surpassed us in terms of wind-generated electricity with 41.8 GW installed, compared with 40.2 GW in the US.


Status of forces agreement with Afghanistan

A substantial majority of Americans across the political spectrum want Congress to act this year to accelerate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, according to a recent Gallup/USA Today poll.

Seventy-two percent of respondents said Congress should quicken the drawdown from the war, which has already cost 1,400 American lives and drained the Treasury of $370 billion.

Democrats were the most in favor of a speedier exit (86 percent), but 61 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents agreed in the poll, released last week.


The real meaning of democracy in Cairo

CAIRO - For the last couple of days I've been gathering the opinions of Egyptians about the situation in Egypt, which I refuse to call a crisis. It's an uprising. A walk toward the light. The real meaning of democracy.

We can't call it a youth revolution anymore. In Tahrir Square, I've met Egyptians of all ages, religions and orientations. Men and women, Muslims and Christians, have all found the middle ground to gather them all together here at the “liberation square.” Despite their different places in Egyptian society, however, they all have one demand: for Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately. 

I ask the protesters, “Why not give him a second chance until his period is over?”
They have a simple and shrewd answer: “When the lion shows you his teeth, never think he’s smiling at you. He’s just getting ready to attack.”


Let's be smart about foreign aid in the debates ahead

Over the next seven days the House will act on finalizing the fiscal year 2011 budget and President Obama will unveil his spending blueprint for 2012. Washington is abuzz about budget cuts starting with White House plans to freeze non-security resources for five years and House Republican initiatives to roll back spending levels to 2008 or earlier.

Every aspect of the budget is receiving close scrutiny and foreign aid is no exception. In fact, the degree of attention focused on these programs -- that help protect U.S. national security interests, provide opportunities for the world’s poor, save lives through health interventions, expand American exports that create jobs at home, and respond to humanitarian disasters -- often seems out of proportion to the less-than 1% of the budget that foreign aid receives.


On the secession referendum in southern Sudan

Today, the results of Southern Sudan’s secession referendum were released: they show that the people of Southern Sudan have overwhelmingly voted to secede from the north. This referendum marks an historic moment: it is an opportunity for the people of Sudan, both north and south, to put to rest the legacy of Africa’s bloodiest civil war. An independent Southern Sudan means the possibility of peace and security for its people; for those who have suffered from decades of civil strife, today is a day of great hope. I am grateful to those in Sudan, the international community, the Obama Administration, and the humanitarian community who helped make this vote possible. 


West should seize the moment in Middle East

2011 could well be the year that reshapes the future of North Africa and the Middle East forever. The unrest now spreading across the region reminds us of the fall of Russia’s empire in Eastern Europe. The Middle East is now going through its biggest political upheaval in decades. The era of stagnation is over and calls for democracy, human rights and dignity have spread across an area where dissent is alive but has been massively repressed.

As Western leaders appear to look on with fear rather than joy, it is clear that one simple message should be noted by western diplomats: The era of appeasing tyrants and trading freedom for stability in the Middle East is over.