Lost in the storm of controversy regarding President Obama’s remarks on Israel and the Palestinians was the president’s announced approach to the Arab Spring. What was new was mostly the money, which Obama intends to pour into Tunisia and Egypt.
In the speech, Obama declared:
[I]t will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy. That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high — as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation. Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership. But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.
He further explained, “So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region. Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.”
But at least Egypt didn’t need to do anything to get the cash. We learned:
Leaders of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations concluded their two-day summit in Deauville, France on Friday, pledging $20 billion (14 billion euros) to support democratic reforms in Tunisia and Egypt.
The two North African nations are so far the only participants in the “Arab Spring” that have successfully overthrown their old regimes. G8 leaders said it was vital to stabilize these countries economically in order to safeguard their path toward democracy.
Speaking at the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged fellow industrial nations to act quickly.
“I think it’s now about making the aid concrete,” she said. “I think we need new, fast and efficient structures, like an EU task force, in order to bring this forward. Tunisia already has a clear economic plan, and we have the power to help make it happen.”
Not necessary to show any sign of progress? Not necessary to check the worst humn rights abuses? And in fact what we have seen recently is a continuation of some of the worst aspects of the Hosni Mubarak era, as the Associated Press reports:
Activists and bloggers are pressing Egypt’s military rulers to investigate accusations of serious abuses against protesters, including claims that soldiers subjected female detainees to so-called “virginity tests.”
Bloggers say they will hold a day of online protest Wednesday to voice their outrage, adding to criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country from ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.
This is the regime to which Obama and the Europeans want to give billions — right now:
One woman who was arrested spoke out about her treatment, and Amnesty International further documented the abuse allegations in a report that found 18 female detainees were threatened with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests. They were also beaten up and given electric shocks, the report said.
Egypt’s military rulers have come under heavy criticism from the youth protest movement, which is upset at the pace of reforms that they hope will lead Egypt to democracy.
Since Mubarak’s fall on Feb. 11, the military has led crackdowns on peaceful protests, and critics accuse it of failing to restore security in the streets or launch serious national dialogue on a clear path forward for Egypt.
Then there is Bahrain. In his speech Obama didn’t pledge any money for the wealthy kingdom, but he did have this to say:
Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law.
Nevertheless, we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
But once again the reality is different, as Elliott Abrams explains:
The situation in Bahrain is deteriorating further, despite occasional government claims that things are stable and even improving. The most recent proof is the Bahraini treatment of the human rights officer at the U.S. Embassy, Ludovic Hood, who is being forced to leave the country after a vicious campaign against him.
It’s evident the speech was just a speech and not a policy. (“This intimidation of an American official should be forcefully protested and condemned by the United States. It is the kind of incident that should have us thinking out loud about the future of the Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain.”)
Obama’s speech, overshadowed by his mega-gaffe on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, was — hard to believe, I know — pretty much par for the course. First muteness on the Muslim world, and then a loud bark but never any bite (save when assassinating Osama bin Laden). And come to think of it, the butcher of Damascus is still there. Since he has not, as the president urged, begun a “serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition” when will Obama be calling for him to go?