2/2/11

Egypt: How India Should Respond To The Uprising

. 2/2/11

It is obviously in our interest to be on the right side of the new forces that will emerge to prominence in Egypt. They will remember who supported them in their hour of history and who sat on the fence.

As a general rule, it is advisable in diplomacy to be cautious in responding to events in foreign countries, especially when they occur in faraway places about which we may not be fully in the picture or where we may not have too many interests. There are occasions, however, when too much caution would not be necessary and might not be helpful in safeguarding and furthering our current and future interests. Silence might indicate not just caution but lack of clarity in our thinking. The evolving situation in Egypt is one such occasion. We ought to have expressed sympathy and support for the people of Egypt in what is undoubtedly their great moment in history.

It has been obvious, certainly from the second day of the protests in Egypt, that this was a genuinely people's movement, not engineered by external elements such as the Al Qaeda, nor by the Muslim Brotherhood, let alone any foreign government. It has also been clear that as and when the revolution reaches its denouement, President Mubarak, if he manages to survive in office, will no longer be able to continue to exercise unfettered power, as he has done for 30 years, that the people will have to be empowered in some way and that it would simply not be possible to restore the status quo ante in the political governance of the country. While the ‘jasmine' revolution in Tunisia might have provided the immediate spark, the spontaneity and scale of protests suggest that the Egyptian people have been nursing their grievances and rage for a long time. People from all strata of society, rich and poor, young and old, have been on the streets, demanding reforms and ouster of Mr. Mubarak. Modern means of communication such as facebook, internet and twitter have greatly facilitated the launching and sustaining of the revolution.

India is not, and must not be, in the business of promoting democracy abroad, either by itself or in association with anyone else. We have rightly taken the position that it is not up to us to tell others what type of government they should have; we will deal with whichever government is in power and is able to take decisions on behalf of their people, decisions that the government concerned is able to implement. This does not mean, when genuine democratic impulses propel a people to take to the streets in a peaceful manner that we should not respond to them positively. There would be absolutely no risk in doing so, especially if our assessment suggests, as it ought to have in this case, that there was no question of things going back to what they were earlier and that in the end, Egypt will end up having more democracy.

India is and must remain a strong votary of the principle of non-interference and non-intervention. Expression of support for the demonstrators will not amount to interference in Egypt's internal affairs. In any case, the principle of non-interference has to be superseded by the principle of national interest. It is obviously in our interest to be on the right side of the new forces that will emerge to prominence in Egypt when all this is over. They will remember who supported them in their hour of history and who sat on the fence. This is a good example of a situation when principle and national interest coincide.





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