With a pair of crises unfolding in the Middle East, the United States is failing to live up to its stated ideals, a veteran foreign correspondent warned on Tuesday.
Charles Sennott, a correspondent for Frontline and editor of GlobalPost, recalled President Obama's 2009 Cairo speech declaring democracy as a universal human right. Despite that speech, he said, the United States gives the appearance of caring more about stability than democracy.
"We're all raised to believe in that [democracy]," he said on The Daily Circuit. "President Obama very powerfully and very eloquently shared that with the world. And now we're being tested. Are we going to live up to it?"
Egyptians are also being tested, he said, "because democracy is hard work. And it takes a lot of patience and it takes a lot of time." Sennott said he hopes his Egyptian friends are watching the anniversary commemorations of the 1963 March on Washington, and especially that they are paying close attention to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
"Because if they listen to that, and they really study it, they'll know it took decades to fight for those rights. And they're going to have to fight a lot harder in Egypt if they want to have their own democracy."
In the meantime, he said, the United States is displaying an inconsistency in its actions toward Egypt and Syria "that's very apparent on the Arab street."
"One of the most fateful moments in modern Middle East history is unfolding right now," he said. "And it's got a lot to do with the future of the Middle East. And the big question, the biggest question of all to frame this is: What do we believe in as Americans, and what do we want to put forward to the world? Do we believe in stability? Or do we believe in democracy? Those two tension points are right on the line right now on the streets of Egypt and they're having a rippling effect throughout the region.
"And certainly the regime of [Bashar] Assad in Syria watched the U.S. essentially, you'd have to say, green-light a military coup. I think that's a fair word. Certainly they didn't stop it, and they didn't speak out clearly against it. And they watched that happen. And I do think it emboldens those who believe in military rule. And Assad, sadly, is one of them."
LIP SERVICE FOR DEMOCRACY
The lack of consistent message also was a point also made by Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, a former member of the post-revolutionary Egyptian Parliament now living in Minnesota.
"The Egyptian problem and the Syrian problem have lots of similarities," Dardery said. "An ethical stance from the world community in regard to supporting the people of Syria to live free has to be the same as towards the Egyptian people to be able to live free." He suggested that the United States has given only "lip service" to the support of Egyptian democracy.
"The administration has not condemned the coup," he said. "When President Barack Obama visited us in Cairo ... he told us democracy is the only way for the future. We believed him. We tried the democratic process. We elected our first president in 7,000 years."
Then the military removed President Mohamed Morsi, and keeps him under detention.
"We expected President Barack Obama and the American administration to condemn the coup, not to support it by any means," Dardery said. "Not to stay silent and waiting when people are killed in the streets of Cairo. That is not good for democracy."
He said Egyptians are willing to pay a steep price to preserve their democracy. "Americans said before, 'Give us liberty or give us death.' Egyptians are no less than the Americans, and no less than the Syrians who are paying a heavy price now for their freedom."
BEWARE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
Robin Wright, a senior fellow with the United States Institute of Peace and distinguished scholar, Wilson Center, agreed that American principles are on the line in Syria but cautioned about the danger of "unintended consequences."
Secretary of State John Kerry's comments on Monday "really signal that ... the United States has made a decision to act in some way punitively against the regime in Damascus, and it's clear that the military option is the one that's at the top of the list." She characterized his comments, in which he called the alleged chemical attack in Syria a "moral outrage," as the "opening stage of a campaign to bring the American public along."
But involvement on behalf of the Syrian rebels fighting to bring down the Assad regime will put the United States in league with rebels that do not necessarily share U.S. interests.
"The tragedy is that the Syrian opposition has become feckless," Wright said. "It can't get its act together to form a shadow government. It's deeply divided ... It hasn't been able to come up even with a negotiating team to go to Geneva for talks with the regime of President Assad."
She pointed out that opposition forces fighting in Syria include "literally hundreds of rebel factions — over 50 percent, according to U.S. intelligence, that are now allied, either ideologically or in real terms, with al-Qaida. And that's not a good sign."
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SITUATION IN EGYPT:
America Has No Leverage in Egypt
Just as pressure from Presidents Clinton and Bush didn't succeed in bringing about domestic change, the alleged leverage supplied by American assistance failed to compel Mr. Morsi to heed Mr. Obama's repeated warnings to adopt a more inclusive approach to governing a deeply divided Egypt in the past year. ... As far as Mr. Morsi was concerned, the need for his party to dominate Egyptian politics and escape the charge that he was collaborating with the West trumped not just the $1.3 billion on offer from Washington but also the $4.8 billion the International Monetary Fund was urging him to accept. When in history has a country the size of Egypt, with its proud history and self-conscious greatness, rearranged its domestic politics for the equivalent of just a billion dollars? (Steven Simon, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-United States, in a New York Times op-ed)
Egypt's Christians Caught in Cross Fire
On the day of the attacks, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party Helwan branch posted a statement on the group's Facebook page lambasting Pope Tawadros II, the religious leader of the Egyptian Coptic community, for advocating Morsi's removal and accused him of sponsoring groups to storm mosques. "After all this people ask why they burn the churches," the statement read. "For every action there is a reaction." (Time)