Friday, February 04, 2011

Not your Daddy’s Middle East

The persistence and courage demonstrated by the Egyptian people against Government-sponsored intimidation and violence in the past two days should quash any doubt on this side of the Atlantic that this is for real. There is no turning back, the Pharaoh is dead, and the people are resolutely in charge of their own destiny. One man at Tahrir Square summed it up this way: "Even if I have to die tomorrow, I have lived today as a free man. Mubarak's not gone yet, but we're the ones who are directing events, not him. These people all around us are the ones who are going to determine the future of the Middle East”. The level of commitment and conviction expressed by that one protester at that moment is, simply put, transformational.

As one might say: This ain’t your Daddy’s Middle East no more!

Yet, some pundits and lawmakers beg to differ. Predictably, it's all about them and their 'strategic considerations'. Their arguments make up a giant piñata of egotism and hypocrisy that betray the very ideals they proclaim to hold dear. One conservative pundit wondered “which revolutions ever led to democracy”. He must have forgotten that his own nation was founded on one (someone should send him a license plate from New Hampshire). Some worried out loud about the price of oil, which…well, let’s just say that their priorities need rebalancing and a visit to the head doctor would be a good idea. Others dished out boilerplate propaganda to warn about anti-western takeovers and policies.

First, the facts on the ground do not support these scare-mongering theories, unless we make them into self-fulfilling prophecies. Though there are many risks and hardships ahead, the scenes, signs, and faces on the streets of Egypt tell the story of a broad-based movement of people determined to free themselves and their nation from autocratic bondage. It is not a monolithic group worked-up in some hate-filled march against the West. If anything, their conduct is really remarkable given the barrage of violence directed at them by pro-government forces. Second, to make support for other peoples’ freedom conditional on whether or not we agree with them reeks of hypocrisy and, ironically, autocratic tendencies.

One heartening moment this week, nonetheless, was the scene of an attentive crowd in Tahrir Square watching and applauding President Obama’s speech on Wednesday. To be sure, that is not a final judgment on US policy by the Egyptian street—We have a long way to go and much more to endure, but it sure was a good sign.


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