Sherif Mansour: It's Freedom, Stupid
There's only one lesson that American foreign policymakers should take from recent events in Tunisia and Egypt: freedom matters. The United States has continually supported Mubarak and other oppressive regimes in the region, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. The Obama administration it finds itself between a rock and a hard place, forced to choose whether to support the ideals of freedom and democracy it espouses and run the risk that in the aftermath, the United States will have lost its allies in the region, or stick with the devil it knows.
If the administration is smart, it will see the writing on the wall and realize that the old order in Egypt, and conceivably the rest of the Middle East, is gone forever. When the smoke clears, Washington will want to be on the right side of history. The United States must now withdraw its support, both financial and symbolic, from the Mubarak regime and avoid any further ties to its oppression.
The retreat of the police force in the major cities Friday indicates the end of the oldest and most repressive police state in the Middle East region. Obama should publicly acknowledge this fact. The Egyptian people have spoken, and the Egyptian regime should follow the police into the dustbin of history. The Egyptian army shouldn't replace police's role in repressing demonstrators, but rather ensure that the Egyptian people's aspirations for freedom and democracy and dignity are met.
Most of all, Obama should make his actions speak louder than words. In these moments of truth, the United States should always take the side of the people. It should offer its help in building democratic institutions while refraining from endorsing any particular candidate or party. It should freeze its foreign-aid package to Egypt until a more just, transparent, and accountable government is in place.
Moreover, Obama should move before it is too late. More important than what the U.S. president says is when he says it. For two years, Egypt experts have urged Obama to put greater pressure on the Egyptian regime, but their words fall on deaf ears. It is time for Obama to respond like he did in Tunisia and hail the courage of the Egyptian people -- but before Mubarak's regime utterly collapses, because at that point it will be too late.
Sherif Mansour is senior programs officer at Freedom House.