The Egyptian Hostage Crisis: 1979 Revisited?

In the midst of Egypt’s supposed transition to democracy, nineteen Americans will face trial for promoting democracy. They are being prevented from leaving Egypt, and 14 of them are described by Egyptian authorities as “fugitives.”

A more accurate term would be “hostages,” and though the U.S. government is warning Egypt that it could lose $1.5 billion in aid, Egypt’s Islamists are threatening to end peace with Israel in retaliation.

The “Egyptian Hostage Crisis”–which began 25 days ago, on Jan. 26– is just as troubling, and as dangerous to U.S. security, as the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979.

The parallels are striking. The Carter administration first protected the Iranian shah, then tried reaching out to the revolutionary government, only to find it was more interested in confrontation. Similarly, the Obama administration first protected Mubarak, then embraced the revolutionaries, and now face their wrath.

The stakes are just as high today, with the son of a Cabinet-level official–Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood–among the Americans detained in Egypt.


Sam LaHood (left), Sec'y Ray LaHood (right)


The Egyptian authorities, like the Iranian regime 33 years ago, are not just threatening local U.S. interests, but American power in the Middle East. And like the Shia revolution before them, the new Sunni revolutionaries intend to impose their own will on the region.

It is unclear how President Barack Obama–who shares the anti-colonial left’s critique of American power–will attempt to resolve the Egyptian Hostage Crisis. What is clear is that hardly anyone is demanding that he do so–not the media, not the congressional opposition, not the international community. (Ironically, Obama’s rival for the presidency in 2008, Sen. John McCain, is the only American leader playing a visible role, visiting Cairo today for talks with authorities.)

There may be good reasons to downplay the crisis, but Obama’s desire to avoid Jimmy Carter’s political fate is not one of them.