SFU professor “extremely disappointed” in Canadian response to Egypt protests

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      An expert on Egyptian politics based in Vancouver is criticizing the Canadian government’s stance on the conflict in Cairo, which reached its 11th day Friday as hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators continued to call for President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

      Simon Fraser University history professor Paul Sedra said he is “extremely disappointed” in Canada’s response to the ongoing protests.

      Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters in Ottawa Thursday there should be an “orderly transition” to democracy in the country, and indicated support for the Mubarak regime's gradual transition plan to a new leader, the Globe and Mail reported.

      Other countries have pressed for a more rapid transition, including the Obama administration, which according to the New York Times has been in discussion with Egyptian officials over a proposal for the president to resign immediately and turn over power to a transitional government led by the recently-appointed vice-president Omar Suleiman.

      But Sedra argues Canada should be taking a strong stance in support of the pro-democracy demonstrators, thousands of which packed Tahrir Square Friday in what protesters called the “day of departure”.

      “For me the bottom line is that Canada does not want to be on the wrong side of history on this issue,” he told the Straight by phone today (February 4). “To think that we are adopting a position which is even less strong than that of the United States—that to me is scandalous.”

      “If we’re to have any credibility on the international stage, as an advocate for democracy, as an advocate for human rights, as an advocate for international development—if we hold back on this issue of democracy in Egypt, I’m fearful of what the consequences could be for our international reputation,” he added.

      Sedra argued an overhaul of the current regime is needed to address the concerns of the demonstrators.

      “Mubarak in a sense is a metaphor for the problem, he represents the problem in an important way, but he is not the extent of the problem,” Sedra said. “The full extent of the problem is a constitutional framework that favours the rise of the military man to the executive.”

      “What Egypt needs now, and what I feel that the protesters in Tahrir Square are calling for, is a democratically elected civilian to be ruling them—and that’s what we need to call for as well,” he added.

      Sedra predicted the ongoing protests likely mark just the beginning of what could be extended protests.

      Mubarak told a television station this week that he won’t resign before presidential elections scheduled for September, but protesters have vowed to continue demonstrating until the president steps down.

      Protests in Tahrir Square Friday were reportedly largely peaceful, while the same day two Globe and Mail journalists were targeted by a mob of Mubarak supporters in Cairo’s Mohandessin neighbourhood.

      You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.

      Comments

      2 Comments

      Canada mimics Israel

      Feb 5, 2011 at 7:54am

      Harper clearly is more concerned with Israel's needs than that of the Egyptian people fighting against tyranny. But you can't blame Harper for his Christian Zionism, it's expected. What I blame is the spineless opposition (if you can call it that) of the Liberals and the NDP. Harper has free reign in Ottawa because there is no opposition. All three parties would support literally anything Israel does.

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      Mark Grenon

      Feb 6, 2011 at 7:42pm

      Harper's government, once again, in being even more lackluster in its ability to adapt than the U.S., demonstrates it is simply not up to the task of representing the ideals of democracy, justice, rights, etc. it claims to uphold.

      While it's true that Canada is not a major player in terms of actual power, its official response to the truly historical events occurring in Egypt is not only about the continuation of power structures but also about non-hypocritical support for the values one claims to aspire to, which, if contradicted this blatantly, indicate a penchant for preserving the past at the cost of a potentially positive future: of course, this is textbook conservatism, be it of the personal or political variety, and thus entirely predictable, but I feel it to the marrow of my bones that if our generation has a zeitgeist, it is unfolding right now.

      You simply cannot ignore the political currency of millions of people protesting peacefully. It is utterly remarkable. Volatile, yes, but change in this case is inevitable, and the maintenance of the status quo is, to borrow a boilerplate euphemism, "fatally flawed".
      The problem is that countries like Canada CAN have great symbolic power, and in its current response to the Egyptian public's demand for the ousting of Mubarak, Canada is wasting the currency of that symbolic power to affect the positive change I believe Canadians on the whole yearn for. And the vast majority of the citizens of the entire world for that matter.
      Chomsky said it well when he pointed out that the greatest power after the U.S. is world opinion, and, frankly, I'm ashamed that my government, which claims to represent me, is voicing the opinion that the status quo (in view of continued predictability) is more important than the abundantly clear will of the Egyptian people. Harper's govermnent is thus squandering the potential to bend or at least support world opinion in the direction of the zeitgeist as it is emerging in Egypt. It is demonstrating how utterly hollow it is in its distinct lack of vision. This is not merely a message it is sending to the world, but also to its own people, which is a warming signal that should be kept on the forefront of our minds the next time an election comes around.

      Up to the recent past, diplomats, in the empty but pragmatic spirit of realpolitik, could have said: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". But it IS broken..... and it needs to be fixed. The sooner the better.

      What we are seeing is the embodiment of the virtual antithesis of Samuel Huntington's thesis of the "Clash of Civilizations"; that is, the world order as it is emerging is not about a clash between the global capitalism of the West vs. the bulwark of radical Islam. It is about conflict as it has always been, conflict between those with power trying to block the unfolding of the potential of those without power.

      If we trust in humanity, we must side with the course of a future in which democracy and justice are not mere catchwords but may, as they come to embody the deserved hopes of a greater and greater portion of the world population, be signs filled with meaning, not signs hollowed out by the hypocrisy alluded to above, the embodiment of a conservatism which is sending the wrong message, at the wrong time, to the detriment of its own reputation and the reputation of Canadians, both at home and abroad.

      And to think that Lester B. Pearson once won a Nobel peace prize for his role in the Suez Crisis. What would Pearson be thinking now I wonder? There is also a distinct irony that Canada's current government is inadvertently backing a dictator considering two of its most cherished symbols, peacekeeping and the very maple leaf of the Canadian flag, have their roots in Pearson's actions on behalf of Canada and world peace during the Suez crisis. When we think of ourselves as peacekeepers and look at our flag with pride, we have to reconcile that vision with the reality of what we do.

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