Dear Sen. Udall,
I am unrepentantly idealistic, a registered Independent, and I voted for you. This is the first letter that I have ever written to an elected official. Several years ago I lived in Egypt, and walked by the site of the current protests in Tahrir Square every day for several months. Like many people around the world, I am watching current events in Cairo, and throughout the Middle East, with enthusiasm and cautious optimism. I also expect much from my elected leadership at this critical moment.
In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama assured the Tunisian people that, "we stand with them". For this declaration to amount to more than simply "standing around", for this statement to be more than hollow platitudes tossed glibly at the feet of individuals who are at this very moment bleeding for their "right to peaceably assemble", our elected officials must stop equivocating and take concrete and decisive action in support of liberty and fair governance, both in Egypt and throughout the region.
And so, I ask you now to speak loudly and clearly when it matters most. Our credibility both in this moment, and in the coming decades, may well depend upon it, and there may be no second chance to act. Consider that we may be witnessing the most important political moment in the Middle East since post-war decolonization.
Egypt is typically the second largest recipient of US foreign aid money. In 2008 Egypt spent 1.3 billion US tax dollars on its military, compared to $103 million on education. Considering Egypt has about a 50% literacy rate, and has not fought a war in more than three decades, one has to question the rationale for this disparity in the allocation of US aid money. It is well known that the Egyptian military and security services have historically been used to suppress all opposition, while access to education has remained a distant consideration. Given that the latter issue is the cause of much of the ideological militancy in the world, it is high time that we asked why we are supporting oppression over education. The Afghanistan and Pakistan of the 1980's and 90's provide us with alarming precedents for the failure to put books before bullets, and opportunity before oppression.
My request is simple enough. First I ask that you use your voice on the floor of the Senate to unequivocally call for president Obama and your legislative colleagues to deny all future financial support to Egypt until president Mubarak either resigns or chooses to immediately, "respect human rights, rein in the security forces, and restore access to all communications in Egypt." This is the position that has been called for by Amnesty International
Next, I ask for a swift and public accounting on the floors of the House and of the Senate for all aid money that is spent in the region, from Morocco to Afghanistan. This accounting should, and must be followed by a challenge to the President, Secretary of State, and the entire Legislative Branch; to account for the US tax payer's support for oppressive governments in a part of the world where "spreading democracy" and "the furtherance of human rights" is the stated US policy.
The value of this accounting is straightforward; to reveal the relationship between the great sums of money that are provided to the various countries of the Middle East; how much of this money is spent on education, public health, and social programs, and how much money is spent on military training and armaments. These figures should then be presented side by side with non-partisan international assessments of the transparency and frequency of elections, and of basic civil liberties, in these same countries. These studies already exist, though by virtue of your office you may have access to more current figures. You will likely find that the numbers tell a disturbing story about the ongoing compromise of US principles in the name of promoting "stability" in the region.
This can be done in a way that is both simple and scientific, and much of this information is available to the general public already.
I am happy to provide my assistance in compiling such a matrix, should you choose to accept it.
Senator, as you begin to question why we provide unconditional aid to undemocratic and oppressive regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, etc, you are sure to encounter the cynicism of Realpolitik. The idea that "stability" and "our national interest" trump all other considerations; that the security of Israel as "the only democracy in the region" is paramount.
It is difficult to provide a brief reply to the many fallacies that underlie such a premise. However I will start by pointing out the importance of all that we are not seeing and hearing on the streets of Egypt at this moment. We are not hearing the refrain of "Death to America" so popular amongst our detractors in the region, and we are not seeing people marching under the banner of religious militancy. These omissions represent much of what we have been striving for in our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and in our strained relations with Iran. These omissions should not be overlooked.
Next, we must come to terms with the fact that US tax-dollars have been directly funding all that is counter to our nation's founding principles, all over the Middle East, for a very long time. US policy-makers have been slow to realize that Cold War rationalizations for such hypocrisy are no longer morally justifiable or politically sustainable. We must also admit the obvious, that we have only secured a purchased peace between Israel and its neighbors, and that we are now seeing that this peace has also come at the price of freedom and opportunity for Israel's neighbors. In the end we must acknowledge that peace is not merely the absence of armed conflict, but the presence of Justice. If we insist on paying for an unjust peace, then we will ultimately get what we have paid for. We will reap the whirlwind of righteous anger and reactionary militancy. How much longer must we drain our treasury and our credibility to maintain the illusion of peace?
Also, let's start having a frank discussion about why we provide Israel, a developed country with the second highest life expectancy in the world (after Japan), and a nuclear power, with three billion dollars a year in unconditional aid (more than any other country). This, when the official position of every country in the world, including our own, considers Israel's occupation and settlement of occupied land as illegal. This latter point represents the rubric through which much of the Arab and Islamic world views American foreign policy, and hypocrisy.
In closing Senator, we must realize that Realpolitik logically ends with justice; that it is actually in our national interest never to be perceived as an obstacle to fair governance for others. We will pay for it one way or another down the road. My eyes are wide open. I see that the current wave of popular resistance is not likely to result in the birth of Jeffersonian Democracy across the Middle East; however there is something sacred about the right to popular self-determination, something essentially American about, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This right was viewed by our founding fathers as a natural right of all men, not simply Americans. The great democratic experiment that we so long ago embarked upon in this nation should and must be nurtured wherever it emerges, with prejudice to neither language nor culture.
Taken as a whole, Egyptians may be poor and oppressed, but they are not stupid. If Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, have taught us anything, it is that the peoples of the Middle East have a long memory. Let's be on the right side of history. Principled positions are those that we take when the outcome is uncertain, when we prioritize moral imperatives before political advantage. Let’s be that country. Dr. King once spoke of, “the fierce urgency of now”. Let’s not ask our brothers and sisters in Cairo to wait another minute for their freedom, and let’s remove all obstacles that we have placed before them in their struggle to attain it.
I voted for you. Please use your vote and your voice in a way that ensures the moral credibility of my generation and those that will follow.