Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

America’s Responsibility? Egyptian Blogger Starts His Sedition Trial Today

Posted by K.E. White on January 19, 2007

Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman, the first blogger charged for dissent in Egypt, started hisAbdelkareem Nabil Soliman trial today.

insulting the president” owing from his Egyptian blog, in which he was critical of Soliman is facing charges of “inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and government policies.

Look here for more information Soliman’s case, the Bush administration’s silence on the matter, a video describing his plight, and the efforts to free him.

The story, given the backdrop of a failed neo-conservative paradigm in Iraq, has opened questions about the usefulness of a “realist” approach in American diplomacy.

I. The Question that Plagues American Foreign Policy

Boiled down, the question comes to this:

Does American support for Egypt in this instance–a “stable” country with strong ties to America–show us violating fundamental American values in the name of stability.

Democracy Arsenal’s Shadi Hamid weighs in, opting to table the fundamental question for a (perhaps justified) jab at the Bush Administration and “realists” of any party:Shadi Hamid

 

As Zvika points out in his latest post, there’s been some renewed talk about (maybe) putting pressure on the Egyptian government. Unfortunately, such talk is not coming from the “end-tyranny-now” Bush administration, which continues to show that it isn’t – and never was – serious about democracy in the Middle East. For those such as Flynt Leverett, who think that “realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy,” this may be a welcome development. No more messianism, mission, and – for millions of Arabs – not so much to hope for.

I hope someone can tell me how “progressive” this video is. Be forewarned that this is a clip of Egyptian authorities sodomizing a man with some kind of rod. It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in awhile. Democracy Arsenal readers will, of course, know that the US gives the Egyptian government upwards of $2 billion of aid each year. But will Democrats have anything to say about our “friends” in Egypt using our American dollars to sodomize political opponents? Don’t hold your breath. It would also be nice if one of the prospective Democratic nominees for 2008 calls out Bush/Condi on their hypocrisy.

 

II. Answering the Question–Clearing Up Our Terms

Here Hamid confuses the realist approach with a realist world view–by which I guess he means favoring short-term stability over fundamental human rights or liberal values.

 

Michael Lind—author or The American Way of Strategy – reminds us that realism is an approach, one that can be led in many directions. When Hamid assails “realists,” he assails though that use certain methods that allow Egypt the right to detain Soliman:

Michael Lind

Properly understood, realism consists merely of a set of methods [hegemony, concert of power, balance of power] used in power politics. The tools of realism can be used to promote a world based on freedom or one based on tyranny. Realism is like a knife, which can be used by a criminal to torture or kill or by a surgeon to save a life. Statesmen with radically different goals and visions of world order may be realists, in the sense that they follow the logic of realism for tactical or strategic reasons…

Properly defined, realism should not be confused with nineteenth-century German school of Machtpolitik (power politics), which held that an untrammeled state should maximize its power at all costs….American realism is a strategic doctrine that has as its purpose the preservation of the republican liberal way of life of the American people, not the maximization of the relative power of the United States. (37-38)

But this semantic reification doesn’t really answer the question at hand: does this news event show American foreign policy failing and being immoral?

Lind reminds us to add two dimensions when answering the question: time and resources.

Most would agree that America should push for a liberal democratic world, but timing can be everything.

Does allowing or feeding pro-democracy protests in Egypt help Egypt? I don’t know–but clearly, as is the case in Pakistan, the results could power to Islamic radicals or start a civil war.

III. Finding America’s Role in the World:

Should America’s limited resources be spent in this case?

Again I go to Lind for guidance:

Liberal internationalism can protect American’s republican way of life even if all sovereign states are not liberal states, much less liberal states that, like the United States, are also democratic republics. Americans have always believed that liberal states are superior in the abstract to illiberal states, and that among liberal states those with democratic republican constitutions are the best. But wise American statesmen have recognized that a liberal society requires the achievement of certain social conditions, and that the preconditions for a democratic republican liberal state are even more difficult to achieve. In the meantime time, the priority of the United States is the preservation of the post-imperial society of sovereign states, not crusades for liberalism or democracy. (253)

Of all the problems in the Middle East–the Iraq War, the Israel-Palestinian crisis, and Lebanon–would intervening in this case be a purely cosmetic move?

Conclusions

Big Picture, Please: Looking at one event cannot tell us whether American foreign policy is moral or immoral, let alone effective or ineffective.

Nuanced Strategy: Put liberalism–respect for individual rights within the state–before democracy–a form of government that may or may not be liberal.

And as to the Soliman dilemma: America should exert all reasonable pressure to alleviate the wrongs committed to this individual. But we must recognize that this evident is the result of many processes–not all of which America can be expected to control (Egypt’s domestic political situation, the threat of Islamic radicalism, and a over-stretched and largely undesired–by those in the region and now at home–American presence in the Middle East).

But should anyone who cares about this case learn more, urge Congressmen to act, let alone write the White House?

Yes.

But let’s hope that these same people will also think about the complicated issues at hand, form their arguments soundly and rationally vote for our leaders in future elections.

Forging any foreign policy, let a lone a “progressive” one, is a tall order–requiring time, energy, and hard work on some of the world’s most troubling and thorny dilemmas.

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