The recent explosions of anti-government protest in Egypt seem likely to result in changes of a magnitude not seen in that country for decades. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak has been in power for the last 30 years, but has promised to step down following elections in September. While the pro-democracy movement in Egypt has received widespread support from governments around the world, one government that does not seem to be giving its full support to freedom and democracy in Egypt is Canada’s. Since the Egyptian protests began, the Canadian government has both continually made statements in favour of prolonging Mubarak’s rule, and has placed restrictions and qualifications on their support for democracy in Egypt.
The Canadian government’s reaction to the explosion of democratic feeling in Egypt has left much to be desired, and simply does not conform with Canada’s stated goal of promoting democracy abroad.
Our federal government has expressed its support for democracy time and time again, leading one to wonder why it has made statements that appear to support the prolonging of dictatorial rule in Egypt. The governments of the United States and other Western democracies, as well as most pro-democracy activists in Egypt, have called for the immediate resignation of President Mubarak. For some reason however, the government of Canada has chosen to ignore the stance of the majority of democrats both internationally and in Egypt itself, and endorse Mubarak’s plan to step down following elections scheduled for September.
Despite more recent, extremely vague statements by Prime Minister Harper that could be interpreted as endorsing the immediate resignation of President Mubarak, neither the prime minister nor anyone in his government has come out and clearly called for Mubarak’s ouster. Mubarak has enjoyed over 30 years of power, and the remainder of his time in office will surely be used to abuse his powers for his own gain. It is a shame that the government of Canada has decided to help legitimize the perpetuation of Egypt’s dictatorship through its misguided and irresponsible statements.
The Canadian government is slacking in its support of democracy in other ways as well. Predominantly, at least in terms of the Egyptian context, it appears to be qualifying and restricting its support for democracy. Both Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon have stated that they would like to see a future Egyptian government that is free of extremist influence, and perhaps more importantly, which accepts the existence of Israel, as it does now.
While it would probably be beneficial for both Egypt and peace in the Middle East if post-Mubarak Egypt was not dominated by extremists and accepted the state of Israel, it is important to understand that within a democratic context, the matter must entirely be in the hands of the Egyptian people, and should not be influenced by the wishes of foreign powers such as Canada. The Canadian government needs to understand that if given democracy, the Egyptian people are likely to make choices that are very different than those which conform with Canadian interests, and that it is their democratic right to do so. Democracy in Egypt will quite possibly result in situations which present difficulty for Western powers such as Canada, but that does not mean that the Canadian government should limit or qualify their support for Egyptian democracy.