When People Power Is a Problem

Bush Shakes Hands with Islam Karimov
President Bush, right, shakes hands with Uzbek President Islam Karimov during their March 2002 Oval Office meeting at the White House to discuss a long-term military partnership. (Alex Wong - Getty Images)
By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 17, 2005; 8:24 AM

Not all rebellions against tyranny are created equal, it seems.

When the people of Ukraine took to the streets to overturn a rigged election, U.S. officials hailed the Orange Revolution.

When the Lebanese public rose up against Syrian occupation, a U.S. State Department official dubbed the movement the Cedar Revolution.

But when popular protests in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan were violently crushed over the weekend by the government of President Islam Karimov, the Bush White House responded not with a media-genic brand name but with a mild statement urging both sides to show restraint.

"We have had concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, "but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist organization that were freed from prison."

That claim drew scorn from The Herald in Scotland.

"It is a long way from Uzbekistan, where a popular uprising in the city of Andijan has been put down with perhaps the loss of 500 civilian lives, to Washington, from whence George W. Bush issues the clarion call for the spread of freedom and democracy across the world. But distance is no excuse for the muted response from the White House."

Karimov gets special treatment from Washington, the editors of the Glasgow daily charged, because he allows the U.S. military to use the Karshi-Khanabad airbase in the war on terrorism.

Andijan, Uzbekistan
"The American response (or lack of it) to the popular revolt in Andijan, and the brutality with which it has been quelled, confirms that the Bush administration supports the spread of democracy only where it suits American interests," the editors said.

The democratic bona fides of the protesters in Andijan in eastern Uzbekistan, where the unrest started, are questionable. The White House concern about "some members of a terrorist organization" was echoed by Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who said that the Taliban "has played a role" in the unrest.

According to an Agence France Presse account, published in the U.S.-based Muslim Uzbekistan, the uprising began when dozens of men attacked a local garrison last Thursday, seized weapons and then assaulted a prison where 23 Muslim businessmen in Andijan were being held. The businessmen were freed, along with 2,000 other prisoners. Eyewitnesses said supportive city residents streamed into the town square shouting "Democracy and Jobs!" and "Karimov Resign!" according to the report.

According to Forum 18, a Norwegian religious rights site, the 23 men were charged with belonging to Akramia, said to be an offshoot of the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, the London-based group that advocates the establishment of an Islamic caliphate to replace current Arab governments. The group's Web site does not advocate violence but its ideological agenda resembles al Qaeda's with denunciations of the "corrupt" West, the "perversion" of the Jews and the treachery of "colonialist" Arab regimes.


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