Like many all over the world, I’ve found myself glued to the news feeds this past week, watching the protests grow and unfold in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian “President” who was been in power since 1981 (30 years!), is now hanging by a thread.
Cairo is almost 7,000 miles away from my own city, Seattle, and I will freely admit that I am no expert on Middle Eastern politics. But as an American, when I hear the voices of the protesters, I hear the same yearning for freedom and opportunity as when I read the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. In another time, another life, the man at 0:45 in this video could have been one of the founders of my own country.
Perhaps I shouldn’t phrase it like that. I know America isn’t exactly a popular subject in the Middle East. Hopefully things have improved a bit since the dark days of the Bush administration, but American governments have been practicing realpolitik in the region for decades, and we still are. We shore up autocrats like Mubarak in order to ensure a stable flow of oil, and try to secure peace with Israel. Egypt in particular has been the recipient of many billions in military and economic aid, culminating in the following picture:
I’m not angry at my government for attempting to protect its interests in the Middle East… although that picture does suggest that money has been funneled to the wrong places.
Up until now, Mubarak has seemed like a necessary evil, someone who provided stability and at least partial liberalization (he was no Saddam Hussein). But now that the Egyptian people are so clearly demanding that he go, it is time for America to decide whether to continue to engage in games of realpolitik, or to fully embrace the principles that our own country was founded on: like freedom of expression; like the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It seems to me, from my vantage point 7,000 miles away, that the people marching across Egypt now share the same sort of radical idealism that fueled America’s founders. This is not an Islamist uprising in Egypt; this is an uprising for freedom, this is an uprising to throw off the shackles of oppression, and in my opinion, we should support it wholeheartedly.
That’s not to say I think America should get involved militarily or anything; that would be a complete disaster. This is Egypt’s revolution, for better or worse. It seems that the best we can do is provide moral support to the protestors, and exert what diplomatic influence we can in favor of a peaceful resolution that ends, hopefully, with Mubarak stepping down.
But I have no control over what my government does tomorrow and in the days to come; my own inability to do anything but watch events unfold is something I find incredibly frustrating. I’ve been doing what I can to help spread the word… one of my Tweets today got re-tweeted about 100 times, but even then I don’t exactly have a loud voice.
If I could, I would be marching in the streets of Cairo today. I don’t have to be an Egyptian to appreciate the yearning to be free. The voice of this Egyptian girl, calling by phone to a voice-to-tweet service from Cairo, is more inspiring to me than any speech by any American politician I have ever heard (and was also the subject of my Tweet that got circled around a bit):
Whatever happens on Tuesday and beyond in Egypt, I hope it ends in democracy. Not democracy from the barrel of a gun, as George W. Bush and the neoconservatives tried to impose in Iraq, but true democracy, democracy that lives up to its name: power of the people.
And to hell with American realpolitik. In the long run, a government that truly serves the Egyptian people will be in the best interests of everybody.
Yes, I’m an idealist. But so was the person who wrote the two paragraphs below. Seems like they could apply to Egypt, don’t they? Or Tunisia. Or any of countless autocratic and repressive regimes around the world.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.