A constant theme of responses from governments and the foreign policy establishment to WikiLeaks’ release of US diplomatic cables has been that it is absurd to expect governments to operate with full transparency. In particular, the reasoning goes, transparency is toxic to diplomacy, where secrecy is crucial to the conduct of statecraft aimed at settling international disputes and even preventing war.

That claim can be put to the test now in relation to Egypt.

The protests against the Mubarak regime and protesters’ demands that Mubarak immediately step down have been reinvigorated in recent days, particularly by the remarkable interview conducted by Wael Ghonim after his release from detention by the regime. The United States, however, appears eager to facilitate a “transition” that will leave Vice-President Omar Suleiman in control and the apparatus of the Mubarak regime intact.

Suleiman is a torturer and murderer who has co-operated closely with the US and Israeli governments in the past. He is clearly the preferred outcome for Washington and Tel Aviv in terms of “stability”.

As the Washington court reporter, The New York Times, showed yesterday, some of the vilest regimes in the Middle East are backing the Americans and the Israelis to ensure Egyptian “democracy” does not undermine regional “stability”. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are all mentioned by the NYT as lobbying strongly for the Americans to relax the pressure on the Mubarak regime.

It seems leaks from diplomats are OK if they’re made to mainstream media outlets that can be relied on to co-operate closely with governments.

But this is in effect a conspiracy between Western interests and several appalling dictatorships to undermine the wholly legitimate democratic aspirations of Egyptians who have called for greater freedom in, literally, their millions.

This “diplomacy” deserves no secrecy. It deserves exposure and censure. And it directly undermines the claim that diplomats should be allowed to determine what the public knows, and when. It’s clear demonstration of why WikiLeaks is right to subject the world’s diplomats to the threat of exposure.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey