Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Egypt: If I can offer some advice...

If I could offer some friendly advice to the Obama Administration it would be to get with the program—quickly and in unequivocal terms. They simply cannot put a dead fish back in the water and pretend all is well with the world. The risk they run by doing so is seeing disappointment with their position quickly devolve into outright hostility. The Administration needs to understand that what is happening on the streets of Egypt is NOT like a negotiation for Health Care or Tax Cuts here in the U.S. This is a moment of truth that requires a strong stand on the side of righteousness and justice for a people who have been oppressed and abused by illegitimate rule.

If I could offer some friendly advice to U.S. lawmakers, it would be to say that this is not about you—Not everything is about you. This is about the people of Egypt and the people of the Middle East who have long suffered under autocratic rule. If some of you are going to complain that mandated health care coverage here in the U.S. is government overreach, then how can you reconcile that with the excuses you make for a police state? And please let us stop with the fear-mongering and the dire predictions of ‘Islamist takeovers’ and ‘war with Israel’. Unless you want the so-called ‘war on terror’ to be permanent, this is an opportunity to steer the Middle East on a new course—one that can lead to societies that are busy building a future for themselves rather than plotting insurrections against the status quo.

If I could offer some friendly advice to Arab rulers, both present and future, it would be to learn to govern with humility and passion for the common good of their people. Instead of loading up fleets of airplanes with luxuries on vacation getaways or building extravagant palaces where obnoxious waste abounds, strive to build your nations up to earn a respectable place on the world stage. Labor to lift your people up from what has sadly become the scourge of the world. Live up to the example of Omar Ibn al-Khattāb and not that of Hārūn ar-Rashīd. Doing so will earn you a legacy far more rewarding than the luxuries you enjoy in the present at the people’s expense.

To be sure, revolts can liberate and transform entire societies, as was the case for a number of Eastern European nations following the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, those who ride the wave to power in the aftermath of the current uprising must know that democracy is not merely a slogan. It is the foundation for sustainable government; it is a central pillar to a truly new, peaceful, and prosperous Middle East. So, unless the emerging leaders hold those truths to be self-evident, they ought to spare the people of this battered region further turmoil OR eventually meet the fate of those whose fall they seek today—Just as the Iranian theocracy will soon find out.

Friday, January 28, 2011

An Opportunity for Change that Can NOT be Squandered

As I am looking out my window this morning watching the aftermath of a snow storm in Washington DC, my ears are glued to a live news feed from the streets of Egypt. So, I wonder whether these gathering winds in the Middle East are as temporary a phenomenon as what is outside my window or if this is truly the long-anticipated day of reckoning for the post-colonial oppressors of the region. The fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia gave us 10 million reasons to hope that that day has indeed arrived. And the Tunisian people are owed a debt of gratitude for shattering a thousand myths about the region and its people. They are owed much more for showing through a level of conviction and persistence, not seen since the colonial days, that the Middle East is capable of freeing itself by itself and that ‘stability’ through oppression will not stand.

The status quo is a sham: The false choice given to justify support for secular oppressors to guard against Islamist rule is a lame punt and poor policy choice for the West. For one, the U.S. must always stand firmly on the side of freedom and never cease to demand justice for those who have none. It is not only a moral imperative , but also the right policy—one that does not cower to boogey-man fears and does not search for what is convenient, but rather for what is right. Second, the realities of the Middle Eastern Street make support for the status-quo a policy devoid of material facts: The demographic realities of the region will invariably force a change. The growing frustrations of a young, unemployed and oppressed generation cannot find resolution through the status quo in a region with perverse deficits in human development and global competitiveness.

To be sure, we do not know how all of this will play out, but something new and different is happening. Tunisia gave us the example and inspiration, but Egypt is the country that can set an irreversible course to a real transformation. So, let’s hope that the people of Egypt will be as persistent as their Tunisian brethren to force change through non-violence and civil disobedience. The world, in this era of instant media coverage, will stand behind the people of Egypt and will not tolerate the repression of peaceful demonstrators. If the people of Egypt succeed, then a new Middle East will be truly in action. In the heat of current events, however, one hopes that the people will constantly remember that once the old regime is out of the way, they will have to come together and get to work on building free and prosperous nations.

A revolution may only take weeks or months to achieve its political ends, but nation-building will take decades for the people of the Middle East to achieve their aspirations and command the respect of the world.