About two years ago, President Obama tried to reset U.S. relations with the Muslim world. In a speech in Cairo, he offered a direct criticism of U.S. allies in the Middle East that regularly repress human rights, including Egypt. “Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away,” Obama announced. “America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people. This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.”
The audience applauded this line. But as events now unfold on the streets of Egypt, Obama is largely a spectator of the events in Egypt, his call for democracy muddied by his recent support of the Mubarak regime and the U.S. governments muted disapproval of the Egyptian government over the last two years as the country’s political conditions have deteriorated. The great reset that Obama seemed to be aspiring to in 2009 never really took hold, especially in Egypt.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Obama has suffered a significant fall in Egyptian public opinion since his Cairo speech. Whereas 38 percent of Egyptian adults approved of Obama’s International policies in 2009, only 17 percent approved a year later. (The 2009 poll was conducted between May 24 and June 11, 2009; Obama spoke in Cairo on June 4, 2009.) When asked if the U.S. will do the right thing in world affairs, 42 percent of Egyptians responded positively in 2009, while only 33 percent responded positively in 2010.
Notably, U.S. favorability in Egypt was lower in 2010 than in 2007 and 2008, the last two year of George W. Bush’s presidency. Whereas, 22 percent of Egyptian adults had a favorable view of the U.S. in 2008, and 27 percent had a favorable view in 2009, only 17 percent had a favorable view in 2010. This coincided with deep drops in the national mood in Egypt. Only 10 percent of Egyptians called the current economic situation good in 2010, compared with 44 percent in 2008. Sixty-nine percent expressed dissatisfaction with the direction of the country in 2010, compared with 57 percent in 2008.
After widespread fraud was reported in the Egyptian parliamentary elections in November of 2010, along with clear examples of voter intimidation (including limits of SMS use), the U.S. State Department released a room temperature statement of disapproval, along with the typically discordant claim that “The United States has a longstanding partnership with the government. . . . We look forward to continuing to work with the Egyptian government and with Egypt’s vibrant civil society to help them achieve their political, social, and economic aspirations.”
Al Jazeera English is reporting that protesters in Alexandria are holding up signs written in English, obviously intended to send a message to the international community. One sign was reported to read, “Foreign governments stop your hypocrisy.”