The United States supports democracy and detests autocracy. Except when it doesnt.
Whats been happening in Egypt may be one of the excepts. Huge angry crowds have taken to the streets, threatening to overturn the dictatorship thats been misgoverning and mismanaging the country for as long as most people can remember.
Since President Hosni Mubarak took power in 1981, he has systematically crushed any opposition groups that posed a serious threat to his rule, rigging elections and sometimes brutalizing his opponents.
The complication is, hes also been a crucial American ally in the Middle East. He kept his country out of the Soviet orbit during the cold war, kept violent Islamists at bay and maintained the friendly ties his much more impressive predecessor Anwar Sadat established with Israel.
Those policies served his interests, and it so happens they served American interests as well. As Franklin Roosevelt is reputed to have once said about a Nicaraguan dictator, He may be an S.O.B., but hes our S.O.B.
So far, the Obama administration is following that line with Egypt. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared Mubaraks government to be stable and looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.
In other words, weve got your back, Hosni.
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