“I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

“That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

“There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

“This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”

Kind of surprised we haven’t had a national dialogue revisiting this speech.  This speech was an attempt to do a major reset with the next generation of the world’s Muslims and the United States as how to view western democracy and Islam as not inherently competing values.

The revolution in the streets of Egypt are filled with the same kind of people, who just two years earlier, sat and applauded politely to the President of the United States talk about how western democracy is not a threat to the Islamic faith.

Today the White House said:

“The president reiterated his focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint; supporting universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, association, and speech; and supporting an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

While the people of this country, born itself out of frustration with a seemingly uncaring monarchial rule that would seem autocratic today, are sympathetic to the plight of the Egyptian people, democracy movements in the region have an annoying tendencies to bite American foreign policy in the arse.

Pro-democracy movements in Palestine lead to a government in which Hamas became the majority party. Pro-Iranian forces became the dominant political power in Iraq.  One of the things causing so much paralysis internationally concerning Egypt is that nobody seems to have the slightest idea who would emerge to lead the country… not even the Egyptians protesting in the streets themselves.

Given the decades of U.S. support for Mubarak, if he is forced from power, it is understandable that the United States may not likely continue to have Egypt as an ally in the region for quite some time.  One encouraging sign is this poll in the Washington Post:

And last year — the first survey conducted after Mr. Obama’s well-received June 2009 speech in Cairo — positive opinions became the plurality, at 45 percent, against 29 percent negative views, figures comparable to those for survey participants in the United Kingdom and France. Although opinion about the United States has also improved in most other countries since Mr. Obama’s election, according to the survey, in

perhaps no case has the change been quite so dramatic.

If I were Mubarak, I’d be deeply concerned that the President’s rhetoric concerning him of late is no different than what he said about the now ex-leader of Tunisia. 

And all those conservatives who mocked Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech as a meaningless “apology” tour?  Apology accepted.

  • Foraker

    If we don’t say too much during the protests, and we quickly recognize a new government in Egypt, and promise to continue supporting the Egyptian government — we might actually retain an ally rather than lose one. Perhaps we should have recognized the election of Hamas for what it was, the will of the Palestinian people. Maybe with more respect and encouragement, Hamas would follow Sinn Fein and shift focus from violence to politics. We’ve used the stick an awful lot. Maybe a little carrot is needed to balance things out.

  • taravanho

    While I appreciate the President’s remarks, I think the BBC poll might be overstating the sentiment in Egypt now. This is from a CNN report of a Pew poll involving face-to-face interviews with Egyptians:

    “In 2009, after Obama’s speech, 27% of the Egyptians polled in the Pew survey had a “favorable view” of the U.S. Not a glowing endorsement, but substantially better than the 21% and 22% measured in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

    A remarkable 42% of Egyptians said they had confidence in Obama; compared to just 11% for President George W. Bush in 2008.

    But in 2010, the numbers were less positive. Pew interviewed 1,000 Egyptians and found that confidence in Obama had fallen to 33%; and just 17% had a favorable view of the U.S.

    That sentiment now appears among the protesters on Egyptian streets, even if it is in a minor key compared to the hostility toward President Hosni Mubarak. CNN spoke to one businessman, Walid Mohamed, who had joined the protests in Tahrir Square Sunday.”

    Quite honestly, decades of bad US policy cannot be made up in a few short years, regardless of who the POTUS is (unless, of course, a POTUS came in and said, “we no longer recognize Israel” but that would be stupid and it’s not going to happen so pointless esoteric debate on that). And, unfortunately, Obama has continued many of the past, failed policies that are systematically wrong for the long-term relationship between the US and Middle East.

    Our relationship with the ME is broken not just because of our reckless invasion of Iraq or the Bush Administration’s love for Crusade-invoking euphemisms, but because since 1953 whenever we engage with the Middle East, we:
    (a) tend to side with whatever authoritarian and repressive regime promises us the most oil or trade favour or greatest security for our corporations and economic interest;
    (b) expect our engagement and relationship to be solely or primarily for our benefit rather than recognizing the reciprocity that is necessary for any healthy international relationships; and
    (c) concentrate on our short-term interests rather than the long-term evolution of the states we engage with, the states we don’t engage with, and our national security and economic interests.

    Quite honestly, I would be shocked if the Egyptian change to democracy produced a pro-American leader anytime in the first decade after transition. We haven’t been good to Egypt or Egyptians – we’ve regularly and ruthlessly supported an oppressive regime that too often fueled anti-American rhetoric within its own state. People look at anti-American / anti-Israeli sentiment in ME countries – particularly our allies and particularly when that sentiment is expressed in demonstrations – and wonder why all the protests involve the US. Well, it’s in part because people aren’t allowed to protest against their own governments but ARE allowed to protest against the US. By expressing anti-US sentiment, they are actually expressing opposition to their own regimes. Simultaneously, whenever it becomes apparent that there’s growing tension or problems within a state, the government will approve of / encourage / hold / organize anti-US and anti-Israel rallies. So not only do people in the ME consider the US to be supporters of their own oppressive regimes, but the regimes respond by encouraging anti-American sentiment as a way to displace anger at them! With friends like these…

    Okay, I could talk about this for hours, but I’ll just leave it there… The US isn’t going to get a pro-US government following the shake-out and it’s not Mubarak’s fault – it’s ours.

  • As I conservative, I stand by my criticism of the speech. His speech was rightly taken as an effort to tone down any democracy agenda and the inherent insults and castigation of our authoritarian “allies,” and as an effort to return to the bipartisan American foreign policy of the previous 40 years– material support for friendly dictators with occasional rhetoric but no action for protestors. (Cf. http://www.tnr.com/article/world/82435/egypt-riots-american-liberals-cairo among others) It is impossible to read the speech without context– the innovative part was not the boilerplate mention of democracy present in all Presidents’ speeches, but the insistence (a return to an earlier era) that the US government would not presume to know what was best, and would treat local conditions differently.

    “The revolution in the streets of Egypt are filled with the same kind of people, who just two years earlier, sat and applauded politely to the President of the United States talk about how western democracy is not a threat to the Islamic faith.”

    No, the people who sat and applauded politely are those on the side of the regime. The people who are out there protesting could never have gained admission to that speech, and other opposition leaders were and are under house arrest. The regime supporters were happy to politely applaud unthreatening words that indicated that no overt conflict with the regime was sought. Were there any actual criticisms of Egypt’s actions in that speech? No.

    Indeed, I strongly disagree with your claim that the speech was intended to say that “western democracy is not a threat to the Islamic faith.” The speech was intended to demonstrate that the US government was not a threat to the governments of the Middle East, and beset with a strange tension between refusing to recognize universal human rights as “best for everyone” yet claiming to believe in them. It certainly conceded that there may be a form of democracy more acceptable to those of Islamic faith, but I think it overstates it to necessarily call it “western” democracy.

    I am glad that President Obama has changed his rhetoric recently and is sound more like George W. Bush, alloying his promotion of democracy less with concerns about the regime’s feelings.

  • Anonymous

    Yet again, we see a conservative who argues opinion based on made up facts. First, I quoted directly from the speech about its call for democracy. The speech then went into detail about the call for the region’s governments to embrace freedom of religion and free speech and gender equality. What the speech said is that the U.S. will not force these governments to embrace these concepts at the barrel of a gun.

    The Mubarek government boycotted the President’s speech. They were not in attendence. Instead, he spoke to college students in Cairo. That is verifible, objective facts. You are wrong.

    President Obama hasn’t changed his position at all. What he said in Cairo in 2009 is precisely what he said today. Democracy and freedom is what the United States will support, but if the people of Egypt want change, they cannot expect the U.S. to come in and impose it externally…. they must make that change themselves. Barack Obama is ushering in more social and political change in the United States with one speech than the billions spent by Bush used with armed forces.

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