Commentary Magazine


What Not to Say About Egypt

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest statement in response to the protests in Egypt should be immortalized as a classic articulation of the absurd, approaching the level of “Let them eat cake.” As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defy a state-imposed curfew, set fire to Hosni Mubarak’s party headquarters, overturn cars, and set off explosions nationwide while demanding that Mubarak leave the country, Clinton took a moment out of her day to note the following:

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors. We call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully. We urge Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and reverse unprecedented steps it has taken to cut down means of communications.

That is, to be sure, the best, most admirable line for the administration to take – if today were January 20. On January 28, it is not merely late; it is surreal. The protests are not peaceful and the regime is not so much cracking down as it is fighting for its survival. The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings. But back when that was the case, the Obama administration was too busy being pragmatic and humble to raise the issue of human rights in Egypt.

Hang on, there’s more. Clinton outdid herself with this: “We strongly believe that the Egyptian government needs to engage with its people on immediate reforms. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and its government.” You can’t even call that fence-sitting, because the fence in question does not exist outside Hillary Clinton’s imagination. If we take this statement to mean anything in the real world, it would be that the U.S. intends to lead some sort of post-uprising group-therapy workshop between a dictator and his enraged subjects. Whatever else comes from the riots in Egypt, it has killed “smart power” in its tracks.