This week I’ve been transfixed by the images of protest in Egypt. The images evoked a variety of strong emotions in rapid succession: hope, joy, excitement, worry, fear, pride, discouragement, and anger. Hope that democracy might finally come to Egypt. Joy over the peaceful crowds that filled Tahrir Square. Excitement when it looked like the demonstrators might stand a chance. Fear as pro-Mubarak thugs attacked demonstrators and targeted journalists. Worry over what might replace Mubarak’s dictatorship and how all this would affect Israel. Pride when President Obama said “change must begin now,” and Press Secretary Gibbs said, “Now means yesterday.” Discouragement as the Obama administration shifted its policy towards supporting “stability” over change. Anger as Suleiman talked “democracy” while shoring up the police state.
None of us knows how this will all end. This is the Middle East after all, where things have a habit of ending badly. In this past century it’s been a graveyard for human aspirations. There are a thousand-and-one reasons for this, from the twin legacies of colonialism and the Cold War to petrodollar geopolitics and the difficulties inherent in transitioning from premodern to modern societies.
Despite all the uncertainties, my heart remains with the demonstrators in Tahrir Square. May they be safe from harm! May their aspirations be realized! May dialogue between the government, the military, and the people evolve into lasting democracy without further bloodshed and imprisonments.
May the United States play a constructive role in encouraging genuine change. We have only limited leverage to affect events, but we do have some. We can cut military aid to Egypt if the regime continues to drag its feet. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be led around by the nose by Suleiman and Mubarak. (It’s bad enough we’re already letting ourselves be led around by Karzai and Netanyahu!) There’s only one way to gain respect in the world — and playing patsy is not it.
We have a chance to be on the right side of history for a change. I’ve written to President Obama urging him to vigorously support democracy in Egypt. If you agree with me, I hope you’ll do the same. There’s no excuse for remaining silent when we have some chance of stopping injustice and improving the world.