While the Middle East is burning these days, one might wonder whether the uprisings, after Arab revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen; again in Iran are due to a domino effect. Autocratic governments (a Western euphemism for brutal dictatorships) are shaking and may in fact fall. Libya seems to experience a civil war already. Graphic footage from Bahrain, where the army’s mercenaries had been killing unarmed protesters at Pearl roundabout, just indicates that the tiny island in the Persian Gulf, which hosts the Fifth Fleet, is too precious for the U.S. to be hijacked by Shi’ites demonstrating for freedom and democracy in the kingdom.
Well, one might carefully read again the hollow phrases by President Obama when in Cairo in June 2009, only a couple of days before Iran’s disputed election took millions to the streets in protest. Obama, whose nice words have earned him a Nobel Peace Prize later that year, has been caught on the back foot when Tunisia and Egypt almost fell last month (the story isn’t over yet). America’s hypocrisy culminated last week when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked on Iran’s cruel crackdown of recently again blazing protests in Tehran and other cities, heavily been incited by Twitter attacks from the U.S., as hypocrisy but kept more or less silent on similar and even more frightening crackdowns in Bahrain.
Let’s listen to Obama on June 4, 2009 in Cairo. There are a few interesting parts which deserve, in particular in retrospect, some comments. What did he say about revolutions?
“The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum – ‘Out of many, one.’” (Emphasis added.)
Obama certainly doesn’t invite his audience at Cairo University to revolt. It is Eurocentric hubris he is talking about. As we have seen in 1989 in Eastern Europe, revolutions may happen right now, anytime. Not to mention the one with its undesired outcome in Iran in 1979. Is it possible that his remarks had been taken seriously, as a challenge for an uprising one and a half year later? The fact of the matter is that the Muslim world is plagued by numerous autocratic dictatorships and most are anything else but strong U.S. allies, which is the sole superpower after the Cold War, the present day ‘Empire.’ Did Obama take that into consideration in his speech? Probably not really. Now, what did he say about democracy?
“The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)
I know – 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 by 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. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”
In fact, leaked by WikiLeaks cables from U.S. Embassies in Tunis, Tripoli and Cairo, Sana’a and elsewhere have painted a different picture. That these Embassies are working smoothly and well in America’s interest has become apparent. That the U.S. supports the ruling dictators in one way or the other, too. Disclosure of the latter is the huge threat for the administration not the former.
About human rights he said,
“Now, 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.”
He is almost begging for revolts when promising that those craving for human rights and democracy will be heard and supported by America. I suppose, he wasn’t aware of playing with fire here.
“This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would 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.”
When finally addressing those of his allies who brutally oppress their own people (or was it only Nouri al-Maliki and Hamid Karzai?) they have not even listened in the upcoming one and a half years. Mubarak and Co probably took it as it was meant, nice but hollow phrases.
Note: Obama quoted (inter alia) from surah 33 (al-Ahzâb), 70-71.
Last modified February 21, 2011.