In a stunning development unprecedented in the modern history of the Internet, a country of over 80 million people has found itself almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the world.
The near-disconnection — at least one Internet provider is still online — comes after days of street protests demanding an end to nearly three decades of autocratic rule by President Hosni Mubarak. Those followed this month’s revolution in Tunisia, another country with little political freedom and high levels of corruption.
In a further blow to his attempts to retain the office he has held for nearly 30 years, sources in Egypt said Mr Mubarak, who is 82, was told by police commanders that any demonstration attracting more than 70,000 protesters could not be contained.
During her first visit to Egypt as secretary of state, in March 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton was asked whether human rights violations by the Egyptian government that had been documented by the State Department would interfere with a visit to the White House by President Hosni Mubarak. It was a good question: Mubarak had not been to Washington in five years, thanks to his clashes with the Bush administration over his political repression.
“It is not in any way connected,” Clinton replied. “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.”
Thus began what may be remembered as one of the most shortsighted and wrongheaded policies the United States has ever pursued in the Middle East. Admittedly, the bar is high. But the Obama administration’s embrace of Mubarak, even as the octogenarian strongman refused to allow the emergence of a moderate, middle-class-based, pro-democracy opposition, has helped bring the United States’ most important Arab ally to the brink of revolution. Mass popular demonstrations have rocked the country since Tuesday; Friday, when millions of Egyptians will assemble in mosques, could be fateful.
The administration’s miscalculation about Mubarak was threefold. First, it assumed that the damage done to relations by George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” was a mistake that needed to be repaired. In fact, Bush’s push for political liberalization was widely viewed, in Egypt and in the region, as the saving grace of an otherwise bad administration.
2. The Obama Administration badly underestimated the secular opposition that was rapidly growing in the blogosphere and that months ago began rallying behind former U.N. nuclear director Mohamed ElBaradei.
3. An emboldened Mubarak stepped up repression, staged a blatantly rigged parliamentary election in November and began laying the groundwork to present himself for “reelection” this year, the administration chose to mute its criticism. Bland, carefully balanced statements were issued by second- and third-level spokesmen, while Clinton and Obama – who regularly ripped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – remained silent.
Newsweek calls for an anti-Israel American policy. The Newsweek article plays up Iran’s ability to play the region, yet ignores Iran’s own civil unrest.
While a series of mass demonstrations against Iran’s fraudulent presidential election and for civil liberties has been brutally suppressed, the Green Movement is more widespread and rooted more deeply than ever in the Islamic Republic. Three grassroots movements — labor, women and students — continue their struggles despite violent suppression.
If the Iranian uprising of the summer of 2009 was an inspiration for the Tunisian uprising of the winter of 2011, the success of the Tunisian democratic revolt is 10 times more inspirational to Iranians.
The ruling theocracy in the Islamic Republic might be able to outmaneuver a morally compromised and militarily overstretched United States, but it cannot stop the inspiration that Tunisian students, labor organizations and women’s rights movement send to their Iranian counterparts.
Arab leaders from Syria to Egypt to Yemen are already nervous about similar uprisings in their own countries, as many observers are wondering whether “the spring of Arab democracy” is finally upon us. But this axis of liberty is not broken along national, ethnic or even religious identities. The will of a young and fed-up population will bring down these regimes, whether the U.S. considers them friends or foes.
Economic malfunctions, massive social unrest, fundamental political failures and pervasive cultural alienation from the status quo are going to shake the very foundations of these societies and reshape the geopolitics of region.