Vice President Joe Biden went on Jim Lehrer’s PBS Newshour show Thursday and instantly proved that the Obama administration is tone deaf to the reform movement now sweeping through the Middle East, specifically Egypt:
Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has “come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?” Biden answered: “No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some… of the needs of the people out there.”
Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
Hey, if the Vice President says it, it must be true! Not so fast… I would challenge this on the grounds of it’s simple absurdity in the face of the clear proof on everyone’s television and news outlets, but I’ll let Wikipedia explain what the political situation that’s fueling the fire of revolution in Egypt:
Egypt is a semi-presidential republic under Emergency Law (Law No. 162 of 1958) and has been since 1967, except for an 18-month break in 1980s. Under the law, police powers are extended, constitutional rights suspended and censorship is legalized. The law sharply circumscribes any non-governmental political activity: street demonstrations, non-approved political organizations, and unregistered financial donations are formally banned. Some 17,000 people are detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run as high as 30,000. Under that “state of emergency”, the government has the right to imprison individuals for any period of time, and for virtually no reason, thus keeping them in prisons without trials for any period. The government continues the claim that opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood could come into power in Egypt if the current government did not forgo parliamentary elections, confiscate the group’s main financiers’ possessions, and detain group figureheads, actions which are virtually impossible without emergency law and judicial-system independence prevention. Pro-democracy advocates in Egypt argue that this goes against the principles of democracy, which include a citizen’s right to a fair trial and their right to vote for whichever candidate and/or party they deem fit to run their country
It’s called a strong-man dictatorship, and if the people of Egypt are united in calling for his removal, by all means Mubarak should step down.
Alex Massie of The Spectator hits it spot on that the Obama administration is awkwardly hedging their bets on Egypt (they can always claim to be on the side of democratic reform after it’s a foregone conclusion):
Like everyone else, the White House is waiting to see what happens today. Everyone agress that Mubarak’s regime is rotten and that the 82-year old dictator (sorry, Mr Biden) cannot endure forever. Everyone also knows that Washington needs the assistance of whoever runs Egypt (whenever and however that transition comes). So, galling as it to see the Americans tacitly side with the regime, the logic of their position is clear. Sit tight and wait and see.
The Obama administration may be content to sit tight and wait, but the people in Egypt aren’t.