Rep. Keith Ellison: We Should Support the Egyptian People
As both a House Foreign Affairs Committee member and a Muslim, the Minnesota congressman has a unique vantage point on the Egyptian crisis. He says the real story in Egypt isn't about Obama -- it's about what's happening on the streets of Cairo.
This is not about the Muslim Brotherhood. They did not start this thing. They joined this thing late. And yet people are trying to turn this into something about the Muslim Brotherhood. If we embrace the democratic movement now, we're not going to have to worry about who's in power because, whoever it is, they will remember that the U.S. was there when they needed us.
TR: Another argument has been that if we want to keep Egypt as a Middle Eastern ally, then it's understandable for President Obama to not distance himself from Mubarak completely. Do we need a partnership with him for strategic interests?
KE: Egypt isn't going anywhere. Who runs Egypt might change, but Egypt itself is not going anywhere. As a matter of fact, I hope that out of this, we stop doing foreign policy on the basis of personalities. When Musharraf was the leader of Pakistan, we had a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistan policy. We've had a Mubarak policy, not an Egypt policy.
We need to take the position, with every leader around the world, "We don't love you, and we don't hate you. We're interested in what's good for the United States. But we're here to support democratic institutions across the world, not individual personalities who we think are going to do what we want them to." We've got to make it clear that our relationship is with the Egyptian people, not any particular leader at any particular time.
TR: You began showing support for Egyptian protesters long before the Obama administration commented, urging the administration to intervene. Why are you attached to the situation, and why do you think more African-American voices have not spoken out?
KE: I'm not critical of anybody who hasn't done anything. People set their own priorities. But I have a lot of friends who are from Egypt, from the Arab world, and I think that I might have a higher level of sensitivity. I was watching the events in Tunisia, and when I talked to a friend about who they were going to support in the Super Bowl, they were like, "Hey man, Egypt is going to go next. I was just talking to people on the phone from home, and they're telling me that folks are getting riled up." I've been hearing about things in Egypt for a long time.
TR: What does Egypt's pro-democracy movement mean for the region? Do you think other countries in Africa and the Middle East are going to rise up against their governments?
KE: You know what Egyptians, and many people in the Arab world, call Egypt? Om El Donya. Om means mother. El Donya means the world. So they call Egypt the "Mother of the World." This has to do with the role Egypt has played historically in the whole world. Whatever happens in Egypt is going to radiate throughout the Arab world. If I were a leader in the Arab world, I'd be thinking about how to open up avenues of democracy for people. I think anybody who doesn't do that can find themselves in a very difficult situation in the not-too-distant future.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.