Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-rule could be coming to end. But Vice President Joe Biden, speaking for the administration, hopes it's not. On PBS News Hour Thursday, Biden said:
"Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with -- with Israel. ... I would not refer to him as a dictator."
Biden went on to twice question whether or not the tens of thousands of protesters on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Mahalla El-Kubra, Tanta, and Suez had legitimate complaints.
The vice president has been famously and consistently called a foreign policy expert by the Washington establishment. In fact, President Obama admitted during his campaign for president that he relied on Biden's foreign policy advice while both men were in the Senate. Most people in Washington assumed if Obama made it to the White House he would appoint Biden as his secretary of state, a position Biden openly admitted he wanted. But Biden's comments to PBS show that he is either naïve to Egypt's oppressive regime or thinks the criticism is over-hyped and tolerable.
Mubarak responded to the protesters' demands early Friday morning by shutting down the Internet, including Facebook and Twitter accounts. Italy-based Seabone, Inc, one of Egypt's major service providers, reported that there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time. One has to wonder if Joe Biden believes that legitimately elected leaders shut down the Internet when threatened with criticism.
Sultan Al Qassemi, a writer for the National & Emarat Alyoum, pleaded with the outside world for help. He somehow got out a tweet from his account saying "Egypt has shut down the Internet. Calls by Secretary Clinton have been ignored. Please help." He called out Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs and State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley in his tweet.
Protesters have taken to the streets to demand greater freedoms, democracy and an end to Mubarak's 30 reign of corruption, police brutality and torture. Opposition leaders have also been calling out the "soft opposition" targeting those who publicly push for reforms, but aren't willing to challenge Mubarak in any serious way (Biden falls into this category).
Egyptian protesters have been encouraged by their Tunisian neighbors' success. Last week, thousands of Tunisians rallied publicly and demanded that their president, Ben Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali step down. After a few days, President Ben Ali resigned and fled the country. Could Mubarak be next?
Biden's support for Mubarak in the face of his falling regime sends a powerful and unfortunate message to the Arab world that their freedoms are negotiable. While American interests in the Middle East must obviously be protected, America's credibility to support democracy for everyone everywhere is crucial. WikiLeaks have already shown American ambassadors and foreign service officers criticizing governments privately but publicly saying very little. How can VP Biden ever talk about the importance of fighting for freedom and democracy again if he chooses to support a corrupt dictatorship at the very time its being so strongly challenged from within? The vice president's absolute show of support for Mubarak is unfortunately being heard throughout the Arab world. The people of Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea are listening. It's too bad that Vice President Biden can't find a way to support everyday Egyptians' pleadings for more freedoms.