While the United States, Britain and Germany press for an “orderly transition” run by the Egyptian dictator’s chief hatchet man, victims of repression continue to scream in the torture chambers of Cairo’s political prison.
Hosni Mubarak on Thursday delegated some authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but refused to step down now, as many had expected. He reiterated his pledge to step aside as president in September (but remember that when he took power in 1981 he pledged to serve only one six-year term). He promises reforms, but not an end to emergency imprisonment, and his vice president says the country is not ready for democracy.
Mr. Suleiman has been President Mubarak’s intelligence chief, boss of the dread secret police, and recently vice president. His repression and torture go on, as witnessed by two of the many journalists detained in the midst of the uprising that has engulfed Cairo. Souad Mekhennet and Nicholas Kulish were held only briefly, but “our discomfort paled in comparison to the dull whacks and the screams of pain by Egyptian people that broke the stillness of the night,” they wrote in The New York Times. Between the anguished cries, they heard an interrogator say in Arabic, “You are talking to journalists? You are talking badly about your country?”
Media repression matters far less than general repression. But dictators hate the media when they tell the truth.
That sort of thing could likely go on indefinitely if the transition takes its projected course. The big powers may well be levering Mr. Suleiman into a longtime Mubarak successor rule, with little chance of any real democracy emerging.
President Barack Obama told Mubarak that “transition must begin now.” And his press secretary said, “The notion that Egypt is not ready for democracy I think runs quite counter to what we see happening in Tahrir Square and throughout the country.” But President Obama seems to be leaning toward pragmatic practicality.
A chief justification for putting Kissinger-style realpolitik ahead of idealism and democracy is the belief that Mubarak is the key to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Nobody seems to have noticed that the so-called peace process has been stalled since the death of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981. But the Israel government has long backed Mr. Mubarak and approved Mr. Suleiman as his successor.
Putting pragmatism ahead of democracy has led to U.S. support of a long line of dictators, including Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Shah of Iran, Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, to name a few of the many who turned out disastrously.
It was lucky for the revolting American colonists that France put democracy ahead of stability and supplied the American Revolution with gold and guns and troops.