If the U.S. gives Egypt $1.4 billion every year, why are Egyptians so upset with us? Perhaps, "they" don't get our intentions. Or perhaps "they" are jealous with of stature in the world. Or maybe it is more complicated than that.
The current crisis in Egypt highlights a serious flaw in U.S. policy where our policy-makers have put short term gains ahead of democratic principles and values. Too often we solve today's problem by creating a problem to be dealt with tomorrow.
The U.S. has supported Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak since his rise to power 30 years ago. The Egyptian people resent Mubarak. And now that Mubarak has said he will not seek re-election, the U.S. has to worry about the possible rise of a democratically supported Islamist government. There is also the possibility that 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei may become the next president. No matter who comes to power, there is every indication that U.S.-Egypt relations will be different and probably won't be as favorable as they have been.
Is this resentment towards the U.S. something that we have seen before? Absolutely!
In Iran in 1953, the U.S. overthrew the democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddeq. Nearly 30 years of repression under the U.S.-supported Shah of Iran followed. The Shah was was an ally against the Soviets in the Middle East. But to Iranians, we were guilty by association and the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that followed produced an Islamic Revolution.
Starting in 1973, one of the biggest grievances in the minds of many Muslims in the Middle East and throughout the world has been U.S. support for Israel. Right or wrong, it certainly is a reason Egyptians are upset with us, despite the "cold peace" between Egypt and Israel achieved in the Camp David Accord of 1978.
In Afghanistan in the 1980s, we supported the Afghan mujahadeen against the Soviet invasion. This was a noble and right cause. However, when we turned our back on Afghanistan after the USSR withdrew in 1989, the chaos that ensued could have been prevented had the U.S. had something like a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. And we all know how the Taliban and later Al Qaeda came to prominence in the aftermath of Soviet invasion.
In Iraq in 2003, our near-sighted and flawed reason for invading has created a new level of hostility against the U.S not just in Iraq, but throughout the Muslim world. The Iraqi invasion itself, 2004 Abu Ghraib and the deaths of thousands of innocent non-combatant Iraqi civilians has created in the minds of many Iraqis a sense of enmity and lust for revenge towards the U.S. that we will one day have to come to grips with in one form or another.
In 2006, when Hamas democraticly won power in Gaza, we walked away from working with that legitimately elected government, albeit one with a nasty history.
Now consider Saudi Arabia. We have been supporting the Saudi royal family since the 1930s. Islamists don't like the royal family, but have been appeased by the Saudi government by encouraging them to spread a strict and sometimes hostile reading of Islam. This is a classic example of solving today's problem by creating a bigger and more complicated problem to be dealt with tomorrow.
Admittedly, none of these examples mention the good that we have done in the Middle East. But none of that matters to the people of the Middle East when there are so many glaring examples of U.S. support for dictators suppressing their people. Right or wrong, their perception of us is more important to them than how we think we should be viewed.
It is unpatriotic to continue to allow our elected leaders to make decisions based on short-sighted thinking or what will keep them in office and not what is in the best interest of the United States long term. Elected and government officials think short term in many areas of public policy - enhanced public retirement pensions quelled unions but public pensions are now bankrupting local and state budgets; creating longer prison sentences to deter criminals not only doesn't reduce crime but it has swelled our prisons and made their budgets swell. This situation in Egypt is yet another example. Short sighted thinking is bad policy.
CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST Paul Heroux of Attleboro has lived and worked in the Middle East, has a master's in international relations, and is a graduate student at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He can be reached at Paul_Heroux@hks11.harvard.edu.