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.


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