Breaking news: John Key supports Mubarak's dictatorship
For all those that suspected National are not so hot on democracy, this morning Key issued proof by publicly announcing his support for Egyptian dictator Mubarak on Breakfast. Stumbling and seemingly unable to pronounce the Iranian President Ahmadinejad's name, Key went on to discuss how important freedom and democracy were in New Zealand, a sentiment he clearly does not extend to other countries.
The journalism in New Zealand has been nothing short of appalling, which is perhaps one reason why Key seems so confused (once again) on international politics. Call me a news snob, but I really don't care how Frank Bunce felt or, in what has to be one of the worst stories of all time, Anne Penketh's completely devoid of context piece on how frightened she was trying to get to the hotel. At least it's not as bad as the standard of journalism where - if this slide is to be believed - Fox News appear to have renamed Iraq as Egypt on the world map.
One sign that Key is seriously off the mark in his comments on Egypt is that even US politicians are speaking more delicately than him. Obama's administration has pledged their support for Mubarak, but stated that he needs to deal with the protesters democratically. Key is right that the Egyptian protests will upset Israel, but has made no mention of the oppressive dictatorship that has characterized Egyptian politics for the last 30 years. In Key's mind, he would rather they stayed that way.
Kragen Sitaker summarizes the issues that have led Egyptian youth to the streets well in the piece below:
Why Egypt's popular rebellion is the most important historical event in a decade, and how Obama missed the boat
For readers who don’t know much about Egypt, like most Americans, here’s my attempt to sum up a country of 80 million people in three minutes.
Egypt is not a republic, any more than the People’s Republic of China is. Egypt is a brutal dictatorship, governed by the same dictator since 1981, 29 of those years under state-of-emergency regulations. That dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was the vice-president of the previous dictator, Anwar Sadat, who in turn was the vice-president of the dictator before him, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had held absolute power since 1956. Egypt has been under one-party rule since 1952, and although the ruling party has changed its name several times, it has never yielded its power.
Egypt has gradually declined in influence and quality of life throughout Mubarak’s reign.
The protesters are by and large not violent; this is a myth being propagated by western media coverage. They were led by young people inspired by the events in Tunisia. As the photo that begins this post demonstrates, one of the forms of resistance that is repeatedly coming out in photos from the region is that protesters have been kissing riot police. In the face of a strong Government response that has included shutting down Twitter, Facebook, cellphones, kicking out Al Jazeera, and reportedly cutting landlines soon, the struggle continues. These are ordinary people on the streets; the protest is not being led by the Muslim brotherhood as some news sources are insinuating. Sure some protesters have taken up stones, but eyewitness accounts converge in saying that this is a later development in response to the American tear gas that has been repeatedly fired at them. With at least 100 dead, thousands injured and reports coming out of tortured corpses being dropped on the street by those suspected to be Government, Mubarak could do the people of his country a massive reduction in violence by kissing his undemocratic rule goodbye. Instead he has deployed F16 fighter jets, a move that our Prime Minister clearly supports.
Soumaya Ghannoushi writes a great piece for Al Jazeera on why such complete misconceptions on the region circulate so widely, called The Propagation of Neo-Orientalism, a piece that references influential cultural studies scholar Edward Said's most influential work. Ghannoushi points to some frightening impacts that these heavily spun news reports are having on people's general knowledge (most notably, only 9% of BBC and ITN viewers knew that when the phrase 'occupied territories' was used it referred to the Israelis as occupier, most thought that the Palestinians were extending their settlements into Israeli territory).
The spin in the US media is currently that the protesters are violent and undemocratic, as covered by Phillip Weiss in this piece. Obama is avoiding using the 'D' word (and I mean democracy) as the US begins to worry about what the impact of having movements towards Arab democracy will mean to their arms exports.
While Key's idiocy might pay tribute to his lack of knowledge on North African politics, one has to wonder if he gets any foreign policy advice before he shoots his mouth off. The reason why even Hillary Clinton is cagey is that the current events in this region threaten the current power balance of the US's economic interests in this region.
The US has been pretty keen to support dictatorships in this region in the past, despite their loud cries of bringing democracy and freedom to the Arab world. One thing that looks certain if Mubarak goes (and he is likely to) is that the country will sever their economic ties with the US, who currently supply all the weapons that are being used on the people of his nation. The US also curiously just committed to a US$50 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite it being the home of Wahhabism. Such deals might be increasingly under the scrutiny of the populous, which is hardly a bad thing in the face of countries that disguise their lucrative arms trades under the guise of pretty public relations. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia which have prompted demonstrations in Yemen, Lebanon and Algeria show the significance of this movement. The fact that they are being fueled by the release of the Palestine Papers on Al Jazeera and The Guardian that reveal Palestinians weak in the face of Israeli and US pressure signals a potential shift in the geopolitics in the region. If Obama and Clinton can recognize this, why can't Key?
UPDATE: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now said that she expects democratic elections will come out of the uprising for Egypt. So why does Key support Mubarak and say that the protesters are causing unrest?