Egypt protests leave West in awkward position

Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:36pm GMT
 

By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - As protests escalate in Egypt and elsewhere, Western governments are awkwardly trapped between strategic alliances, their own rhetoric on democracy and rights and domestic political sympathy for those demonstrating.

Police and demonstrators fought running battles in the streets of Cairo on Friday on a fourth day of unprecedented protests by tens of thousands demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak's three decades of rule.

Hundreds have been arrested following mass demonstrations inspired by events in nearby Tunisia, where President Ben Ali fled into exile earlier this month after social media-fuelled protests forced him from power.

Yemen's government -- another key U.S. regional ally -- has also faced mounting protests as activists across the Middle East and elsewhere gain inspiration from each other.

Washington and others have long quietly relied on sometimes repressive regional rulers, seeing them as a bulwark against Islamic extremism. Now they face few good options.

"They haven't managed this balancing act very well and now they are caught in the middle," said Rosemary Hollis, professor of Middle East policy studies at London's City University.

"They have maintained this polite fiction that they are in favour of democracy and openness but in reality they have been happy to allow regimes to avoid reforms."

Hollis says the strong performance of Islamists Hamas in 2006 Palestinian elections in the Gaza Strip scared many policymakers and deterred them from pushing for genuine democratic reform elsewhere in the region.   Continued...

<p>A protester gestures in front of a burning barricade during a demonstration in Cairo January 28, 2011. Police and demonstrators fought running battles on the streets of Cairo on Friday in a fourth day of unprecedented protests by tens of thousands of Egyptians demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic</p>
 
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