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.
5 Replies to “Egypt 2011”
Unfortunately, despite what we are taught in school and are fed by the corporate media, we do not have a good record of actually supporting democracy and fighting injustice abroad. On the contrary, we have been allied with not only the repressive regime of Mubarak, but others in the Middle East, including Saddam Hussein when he was gassing the Kurds and Saudi Arabia as it continues to repress its people. In Latin America, we have helped to overthrow democratically elected leaders in Guatemala (Jacobo Arbenz), Chile (Salvador Allende) and been complicit in other coups or helped military dictators in many other countries, such as Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Honduras, Panama and Haiti.
It is, by and large, a pretty awful record. You also left out the CIA organized coup that ousted Mossadegh and restored the Shah to Iran. But we could go on. That’s why it’s time to begin getting things right.
You are right, it is complex.
“Democracy” is not always good — if the majority want oppressive religious law, it could be disastrous. If “Democracy” allows manipulation of loud violent small but significant group, then outcomes could be bad. But, as you say, we will have to wait and see. Democracy (>50% wins) without rule of law and principles of freedoms can spell disaster.
You said, “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.”
But other reasons include their own responsibility, their own philosophies, their own cultural practices. It ain’t all the fault of the West by any means. (but I wager you agree)
My inclusion of the phrase “the difficulties inherent in transitioning from premodern to modern societies” would include those philosophies, cultural practices, and economic arrangements that hinder economic development, good governance, women’s equality, and the emergence of civil society. Many of those are tribal in origin, some reflect the historical process of anti-colonialism with its rejection of free markets, some reflect the power of the military within each country which was aided and abetted by the Cold War. As you say, it’s complex. I hadn’t intended to blame everything on the West. But we share an important part of the responsibility.
You are, of course, right that “power to the people” does not solve all problems, and there is always the possibility of the tyranny of the majority, mobocracy, and a one-time election that votes in a new misfortune. German Democracy voted in Hitler, the French Revolution ended in a reign of terror followed by Napoleon, and the Kerensky government fell to the Bolsheviks. In America, it’s said, they even sometimes vote in Republicans :-). On the other hand, Egypt 2011 may be the time and the place for something miraculous and wonderful to happen.
I agree, but I also feel many people are projecting their anti-whatever into Egypt and hoping for change without understanding the complexity. It has more to do with their idealized visions of politics which I am very leery of.