The Echo Chamber

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

I don't get a lot of what's being said about Egypt. This isn't about the Dish's coverage, but about what people are saying in general. You just posted a quote from Marc Lynch:

"Egyptian military must receive the message loudly, directly and clearly that the price of a continuing relationship with America is Mubarak's departure and a meaningful transition to a more democratic and inclusive political system."

I admit I don't know very much about Egypt. But it really seems as if events there are fairly chaotic and have a momentum of their own. I'm not sure anyone could control them very easily now. And everyone is probably trying to hang on. The idea that such a statement from the US would have an effect seems pretty hard to swallow.

And such a threat - to withhold a relationship with Egypt after things settle down - seems totally hollow. Let's say there's a lot of violence, and six months later, a new regime is in power. Maybe they're democratic, maybe not. Are we really going to say, "Look, we told you during the revolution that you had to do this stuff, and you didn't, so we're not going to talk to you." Everyone knows that we'll do whatever is in our interests. That's what everyone always does.

Now that Mubarak hasn't accepted Obama's suggestion that he step down, everyone says, "Well, of course we knew he wouldn't do it, but it had to be said." But now people are insisting that we make demands on the Egyptian military - no one specific, just the military - and of course those demands will be taken seriously.

This isn't really the strangest stuff, though. We've backed Mubarak for more than three decades. We're the main reason he has been able to stay in power. We kept him there, and we've always looked the other way when confronted with his crimes against his own people. We've encouraged him to make decisions that are deeply unpopular among the Egyptian people on a whole variety of issues, including, most prominently, Egypt's relationship with Israel.

Pundits in this country always talk as if the Egyptian people will forget all of this if only Obama will say the right thing on day 6 of the revolution. People act as if our backing of Mubarak for more than 30 years won't really have any lasting consequences, but the things we say today, in the middle of the crisis, will.

Running through all of this is a fairly bizarre conception of the US's power, its ability to project that power, and its image in the world, combined with a staggering inability to consider, even superficially, how things must look to people in other countries . To people in Egypt, for example.

I think we sometimes loose track of how insulating our bubble really is, and how strange the echo chamber can become.