Many Americans have a soft spot for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Coming to power in October 1981 as an unknown Vice President when Anwar Sadat was assassinated, Mubarak overcame the curse of stepping into a great leader’s shoes to establish a rule spanning 29 years next month. On the way he has built a reputation as a stalwart of the Middle East peace process, playing a lead role in drawing reluctant Arab states to the table. 1
But recent reports that Egyptian police have jailed protestors who were speaking against Mubarak’s alleged strategy to install his son Gamal as a hand-picked successor when Egypt’s presidential election takes place next year reveal a side of Mubarak not captured by his peacemaker image. 2
My contention is this: the Middle-East peace process should not be used as a shield to perpetuate dictatorship. Turning a blind eye to Mubarak’s repression is tantamount to transforming the peace process into a trade league for protecting authoritarian Arab states. Moreover, allowing Mubarak’s government to repress civil liberties to promote family succession will ultimately delay peace efforts. Long-time Arab leaders have been more apt to contribute to the Middle East peace process towards the end of their reigns, as was the case with King Hussein of Jordan, whose most substantial efforts to promote peace with Israel only reached the public stage towards the end of his life. A new king or ruler-by-inheritance may spend many years if not decades consolidating power before risking a new peace concession. Democracy in a country with a rich educational tradition like Egypt can fare better.
Peace in the Middle East cannot wait another generation, and in that regard it would be a setback for Mubarak’s son come to power with the unfair advantage of his father suppressing civil rights of political opponents. While Mubarak’s continued contributions to peace efforts must be appreciated, Americans should be firm in opposing Egypt’s domestic repression.
- See Mubarak’s own recent op-ed, “A Peace Plan Within Our Grasp, New York Times, August 31, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/opinion/01mubarak.html. [↩]
- See “Egyptian Police Arrest Demonstrators,” Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2010, p. A17. [↩]