The events in Tunisia a few weeks ago and the ones unfolding in Egypt at the moment have been quite revealing of the type of leadership these two countries have had for the last few decades.
In Tunisia, as the ruling party was clinging to the last shreds of power in the final days of protests, it resorted to unmentionable measures in trying to quench the revolution.
Not only did the police use brutal force, killing tens of their own citizens, but undercover members of police were actively spreading chaos through looting and attacking people in order to "teach the people a lesson" that their safety was only possible if the ruling party stayed in power.
Leila Trabulsi, the Tunisian ex-president's wife, stole 1.5 metric tons of gold from the country's treasury as she and her husband fled the country.
In Egypt, similar events are taking place. This time, however, it appears that the next few days will witness harsher, less conscientious measures from the rulers of Egypt toward the Egyptian citizenry. Mysteriously, the police have gone absent from the streets. At the same time, eyewitness reports are describing gunmen coming out of police cars to try to break into the National Museum. Other gunmen were reportedly carrying machine guns described as "unique to the police force." Protesting Egyptians actually caught a few of these gunmen, only to discover that they had police badges. The protesters made sure to retain these badges for proof. Practically all fingers are pointing to President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party and its intelligence agency as the culprits behind these "gunmen."
Clearly, this is disturbing. The extent to which a regime is willing to go in
order to stay in power can be utterly beyond all sense of human decency. Even given the colossal depth of corruption that Tunisia and Egypt have in common, I'm still puzzled as to how the ruling party can resort to such measures simply to stay in power.
But I'm not living in Egypt or Tunisia; I'm living in the Unites States. And so far, the ruling regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and the rest of the Middle East except Iran, have been our so-called "allies." Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. financial aid, and President Obama praised Tunisia's leadership not too long ago.
And we knew it was corrupt. Wikileaks documents showed letters from the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia describing government corruption, saying that the ex-leader Bin Ali and his wife's families were running the country like a mob. And now after the riots had erupted in Egypt, all U.S. official statements imply that Egypt is due for change toward "more freedom" and less corruption, which means we knew about the corruption of Egypt's leaders as well.
This a time for serious reflection. Why can't we seem to have an "ally" in the Middle East who is not corrupt? The shah of Iran was our buddy, and corruption was greatly reduced only after he was ousted. The Palestinian Authority is so corrupt that Palestinians had to elect Hamas, which is far less corrupt than Fatah, even though Hamas was not the main representative of the Palestinian people since 1948. Fatah was. But again, why is it that we cannot seem to have an honest, "good" ally in the Middle East? Why do our allies have to be oppressors with long, dark records of human rights abuses? What does that say about us? Do we consider average Arabs to be enemies who must be kept on a leash by strongmen supported by us?
Some will say that we cannot repeat the scenario of Iran once again and end up with another enemy of the Western World. And that's fine. But why do our allies have to be corrupt? And why dictators? The people of Egypt are not under some "Islamist" flag waiting to be raised. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood has a dismal presence in the current rallies when compared to the thousands of protesters.
Why does it seem like the more corrupt a Mideast government is, the more likely it is to be an "ally" of ours, and vice versa?
Hani Hamdan, DDS, lives in Burnsville and practices dentistry in Lakeville, Minn. He is a contributor and editor of Engagemn.com and a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.