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Controlling the electorate in Egypt and the United States

Marc Jampole
August 18, 2013

by Marc Jampole

Al-SisiThe powers-that-be in Egypt seem to have the same view of democracy as those in the United States have: it’s fine as long as we get our way.

In the U.S., they pass laws that make it harder for people to vote, in hope of offloading minorities, the poor and students from voter rolls to give future elections to right-wing conservatives. Of course, in the bad old days of Southern overt resistance to civil rights, those who wished to limit voting to Caucasians often resorted to violence. We’ve come a long way, baby!

In Egypt, they are taking a more violent approach, first with a coup d’état that no one wants to call a coup d’état, and then by violently uprooting thousands of protesters, leading to the deaths of hundreds.

The U.S. is looking pretty hypocritical today for not having immediately cut all aid to Egypt when the military overturned the democratically elected government led by the Muslim Brotherhood. There was certainly a lot of incompetence displayed by the Brotherhood in running the country, but if incompetence was a justifiable excuse for overthrowing a legally elected government, then we would have endured a number of coups in the U.S. over the years — including to overthrow George W. Bush (who came to power in the closest thing to a coup d'état that the U.S. has known).

Our attitude towards democracy overseas has always been ambivalent, because despite the flowery language about democracy our leaders have spouted from Wilson to Obama, the main concern of American foreign policy has always been to protect the interests of large American companies doing business abroad, secure a cheap source of raw materials, specifically oil, and open markets for American goods, including huge supplies of weapons. Democracy is fine — as long as the democratically-elected government supports those goals.

The Egyptian military is dependent on U.S. aid, as is the Egyptian economy, which was invoked as a reason for the coup. Would the generals have produced their replay of Tiananmen Square if we had withheld all aid until new elections were held?

More to the point, why aren’t we halting aid now? The pleas of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry for an end to violence on both sides sound hollow in the wake of the slaughter of the protesters. Of course, democracy plays little if no part in the equation for U.S. foreign policy makers. It’s a beautiful word we like to throw around, but since we became actively involved in world affairs sometime at the end of the 19th century, we’ve been more concerned with creating stable governments. Military governments are certainly more stable than democracies.

It’s time to freeze all aid to Egypt and organize our allies to put pressure on the Egyptian government for immediate elections.

Marc Jampole is a poet and writer who runs Jampole Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Pittsburgh. He blogs several times a week at OpEdge.