In the 1970s, when the crackpot dictator Idi Amin, of Uganda, proclaimed himself as president for life, we all ridiculed him. But when Hosni Mubarak got elected as president of Egypt and squelched any dissent and became president for life, we rewarded him by giving him our tax dollars.
Over the past three decades we have provided billions of dollars to the Egyptians and they have followed the policy of torture, imprisonment and silencing opposition.
Democracy has effectively not been allowed to flourish. This story has been repeated many times by previous U.S. administrations in many of the Middle Eastern and South American countries.
For the first time in U.S.-Egyptian relations, the U.S. snubbed a friendly government when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to cancel her trip to Egypt.
This came after President Hosni Mubarak arrested Ayman Nour, head of the opposition Al-Ghad Party, and put him in prison.
For the first time we have taken a stand against the dictators in favor of human rights and democracy in Egypt.
Just a month ago, Mr. Mubarak refused the demands of the opposition to open the presidential election process to other candidates. Now Mr. Mubarak reversed his month-old statement and decided to open the presidential election process to other candidates. He also wants to amend the constitution to allow opposition candidates to appear on the ballot.
Following this new policy, U.S. Senator Joseph Biden said, in one of his TV interviews, that in his friendly meetings with the Saudi Royalty he told them that they need to loosen their grip on the people and allow some local elections. And now the Saudis, as good and obedient servants, listened and obeyed. Token elections were held in major cities in Saudi Arabia, where the city councils will now have some representation from the public. These councils, which will have very limited powers, will still be controlled by majority of nominees from the Saudi Royal family. It may be too little too late, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.
The Saudis, Egyptians and other autocratic regimes behaved the way they did in the past because they were supported and encouraged by the U.S. for their autocratic behaviors. Many people have been jailed or have died in the struggle for human rights and the establishment of the rule of law in these countries. The general masses always wanted to have freedom and democracies, yet the autocratic regimes, with the support and connivance from our government, squelched any dissent and unlawfully imprisoned those who opposed the government.
Pakistan is another country where there is a semblance of democracy, but it is run by a dictator supported by the U.S. and where the masses are yearning to see a free and democratic state. The military rulers of this country have a history of choking the life out of democratic institutions by coup d’etat and then a few years later disappearing into oblivions after mass protests and public rallies. During their dictatorships, major damage is caused to the nation financially, politically, socially and psychologically.
There are other states that are ruled by autocratic rulers that the U.S. is currently supporting. If the current administration wants democracies to flourish in Asia, it does not have to take on harder countries such as Iran and Syria at this stage. It can easily convince the dictatorial regimes which are friendly to the U.S., such as Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan to change. This may be much easier task than going head to head with hard-core deep rooted regimes of Iran and Syria. It can be done without bloodshed and massive military intervention. We do not have to spend lot of money and the outcome could be much more rewarding.
Taj Khan of Lodi is a consultant and retired engineering manager for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.