"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." - Arthur Miller

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Egyptian Revolution

For the last eight days, the youth of Egypt (about 30% of the population) has been protesting against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Dictator is actually more accurate as the elections are often fixed and opposition is often threatened, beaten, jailed, or killed. Mubarak took over after Anwar Sadat was murdered in 1981, using a then emergency decree to maintain his power. Technically there are elections, but the last person to run against him spent four years in jail. Also, there have been indications that he was really trying to establish a dynasty by having his son succeed him.

For the Egyptians people the goal of the protests is a move to a real democracy where they vote for those in power. The goal for Mubarak was to maintain his power. The goal for the United States? Hard to tell. On one hand Mubarak has been a friend of the US and a strong stabilizing force in the Middle East. He is a known and predictable quantity. On the other hand, generally when elections occur in Middle Eastern countries, it rarely is for a government that loves the United States. So Obama, as the voice of the United States, is in a rock and a hard place.

This country vocally supports democracy while happy propping up dictators and terrorists whenever it seemed to support the United States (usually for business) interests. See history of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and how they came into power as two of many examples. This rock and hard place is why Obama and company have been very careful in how they handle this situation. They are desperately trying to avoid angering the current government if somehow Mubarak is able to maintain power but also trying to avoid accusations of interference or worse, trying to prop up the new government. For Obama, it’s a careful dance of supporting all sides while offending no sides. It is unlikely to work at it seems the situation has reached a point where declaration of support for the people of Egypt is a needed next step.

As citizens of the United States, of claiming to cherish freedom, the choice seems clear - support the removal of a dictator and freedom for the Egyptian people if even the government that comes into power may become our enemy. Generally speaking, Americans often give lip service to ideals but when confronted with taking action they take the path of least resistance and hate (see gay marriage, hatred of gays, Patriot Act and so many more examples). I hope that doesn't occur here.

Today there has been some pseudo-movement in the question for democracy in Egypt. Mubarak has pledged to step down and hand over power to a successor in September. The problem is, as a dictator he can change his mind at any time. Even more important, he can use the time to get the full faith and support of the military. So goes the military, so goes the government. As expected, the protesters did not like this "concession" as they chanted "Down with Mubarak." What comes next is unknown but this seems far from over.

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