—Shelley’s “Ozymandias of Egypt”
Ramesses II, called Ozymandias by the Greeks, was one of the most powerful pharoahs. He reigned from 1279 to 1213 B.C.
His legacy in the Shelley version: his monument toppled and buried in the desert sand, his “mighty works” of cities and temples forgotten.
Egypt’s last pharoah, Hosni Mubarak, reigned from 1981 to 2011. His legacy: butchery, torture, cruelty, brutality, corruption, censorship and vote-rigging. He left 40 percent of Egyptians living below the poverty line.
Emboldened by the uprising in Tunisia which overthrew a tyrant, the Egyptian people deposed their tyrant Mubarak. This joyous result was spearheaded by young people with the aid of social media.
The successful uprising in Liberation Square in Cairo set much of the Arab world aflame with revolt in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq and Morocco.
Libya! Where Qaddafi has ruled for 41 years. Qaddafi: international criminal. Qaddafi: responsible for the murder of 270 people on a plane over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Libya: where one of the Qaddafi sons gave $1 million to Mariah Carey to sing four songs at a bash in the Caribbean. Libya: where nepotism is rampant.
Qaddafi, the clownish and bogus philosopher, ranting and raving. A madman dictator.
Dirk Vanderwalle, Dartmouth professor, wrote recently in the New York Times: “Libyans found themselves in an Orwellian nightmare where even small utterances of protest could lead to disappearances, prolonged incarceration without any form of legal redress and torture.”
Libyian protesters have seized control of most of the country except the Qadaffi bastion of Tripoli. They dared bullets and defied death to shut down schools, stores and government offices in Tripoli.
Such defiance has cost 2,000 lives at the hands of Qaddafi’s special brigades and African mercenaries. They are massacring with abandon to save his throne.
Even so Qaddafi is tottering. Military officers are defecting. Pilots are parachuting from their planes rather than follow orders to bomb cities.
Other dictators in the Mideast are worried. In Saudia Arabia King Abdullah, seeking to prevent unrest, announced a $10 billion increase in welfare spending to help young people marry, buy homes and open businesses.
As for Egypt, its future is uncertain. The military, the new ruling power, has started well. It pledged a transition to democracy, taking steps to revise its constitution and promising elections in six months.
But can the military be trusted? The military has been involved recently in dozens of “disappearances” and 12 cases of torture.
Moreover, the military is unlikely to give up the perks of a “gated economy,” as a New York Times dispatch put it.
It runs a vast web of businesses but pays no taxes, employs conscripted labor and buys public lands for a song. Its businesses include beach resorts, TV sets, jeeps, washing machines, olive oil and bottled water.
Once again the United States has been on the wrong side of suffering people, the wrong side of justice and the wrong side of history.
America’s hypocrisy is stunning. It reveals time and time again that the democracy it constantly preaches is fraudulent.
As Jeff Cohen writes on Truthout: “Democracy is a good idea. Too bad it plays almost no role in U.S. foreign policy.”
Typical was a speech President G.W. Bush gave in 2005: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness know that the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors.”
But it did.
Bush — and presidents before and after him — supported the Mubarak oppression, giving Egypt $60 billion over three decades. America sided with the dictatorial regime in Tunisia. It has troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. It fights a hidden war in Pakistan.
No wonder the Arab world hates America.
The long list of U.S.-backed dictators is truly stunning, from supporting the torture-state of the Shah of Iran in 1953 to propping up Colombia today despite its grotesque civil rights record. The CIA engineered the overthrow of the fairly elected leftist Allende in Chile and backed his rightwing successor Pinochet.
In between America smiled benevolently on dictators like Suharto in Indonesia and Marcos in the Philippines. It supported apartheid in South Africa.
President Franklin Roosevelt, referring to the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, summed up the reality of U.S. foreign policy: “He may be a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch.”
And 40 years later CIA chief Bill Casey echoed that sentiment. Speaking of Panamanian dictator Noriega, Casey said: “He’s a bastard but he’s our bastard.”
The Arab revolts ought to convince America to stop bulwarking dictatorships.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.