The President Who Does Gets Egypt
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
Perhaps it is the fate of political leaders never to receive praise when praise is due. Certainly not in the West, and most certainly not in Anglo American politics. Essentially we are so used to being betrayed, so used to being able to spot the spin and insincerity and so worn down by the utter insincerity and self interest of our effete political class, that on the rare occasions that a politician rises above all of this, we invariably miss it.
President Obama is just such a case in point. By almost any standards he has struck the right poise and note, exerted pressure where it is needed and above all acted as the statesman he is, as a key ally, Egypt is rocked by revolutionary fervour. The contrast with the shrill hectoring Hillary Clinton couldn’t be more stark, for Obama doesn’t lecture; he somehow manages to rise above the banal and predictable to a higher plane of moral authority. Perhaps he is such an astonishingly good actor, that even I have fallen for it.
Of course Obama, in common with all preceding US Presidents from Jimmy Carter on have rolled out the red carpet for President Mubarak. Had the Arab Street not risen in near unison, that red carpet would still be being rolled out. And it would be in the knowledge that Mubarak is an autocrat, a corrupt one at that, who has been quite happy to rule through a mixture of cronyism, corruption and fear. So much then for democracy and human rights. So of course many will rightly say that Obama may be accused of being a hypocrite. But prey what would have been the attitude had he simply refused to comment? What would have been the attitude if Obama had attempted to shore the Mubarak regime up, as once would have happened if useful despots in Latin America had found themselves under threat and picked up the phone to the White House?
Obama has used his position carefully, getting the message and tone right. He has managed to convey the message that the American people are on the side of democracy and human rights and by extension with the demonstrators in Cairo and Alexandria. He has pushed for a rapid transition, and alongside UN Secretary General Ban ki moon, condemned the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators. In all this, he has not sounded like a colonial Governor.
The US President has thus far played a blinder. Which made the appearance of the European Union’s chief foreign affairs spokeswoman, Baroness Catherine Ashton, particularly risible today. Ashton was interviewed by Al Jazeera, fast becoming the international channel of repute in its Egypt coverage. Her response to questions as to when Mubarak should go was a curious mixture of civil service obfuscation and political techno-babble. Perhaps even she realised how utterly absurd it was that she, a totally unelected appointee was commenting on whether another totally unelected appointee should resign with dignity.
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