Conor Rogers, Editor
Ideology: Center-Right | Writing from: Washington, DC
As you read, American guns held by Egyptian police are currently aimed at protestors who have organized in the streets despite their access to any form of communication — internet, phone and television — being shut down by a US-backed President. The protestors want democracy, the US-backed President wants control.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is not the Middle East’s worst strongman — not by any stretch of the imagination. He has persecuted no genocide, curried favor to no ethnicity and has presided over a generally moderate and tolerant society. This is all said, of course, in the context of a not so nice neighborhood defined by Saddam Hussein and the Saudi royal family. But Mubarak has also not gone the way of Turkey — the Middle East’s most successful, open, and free democracy (sorry, Israel, liberty does not bulldoze.) Hosni Mubarak is the Middle East’s Hugo Chavez, except he has been kind to our foreign policy. Chavez, in the context of Chile’s Pinochet or Nicaragua’s Ortega, is not the worst the region has seen; but he remains a dissident-silencing opposition-jailing electioneering “President.” Chavez and Mubarak have won elections, but the opposition was barred from participation and arrested. Mubarak’s Egypt could be far more democratic and free, but Egypt has never been given the true opportunity to no longer be Mubarak’s.
Mubarak has been America’s friend and ally, but is exemplary of another case of America’s ‘Musharraf Syndrome’ — our tendency (or at times, necessity) to back stability over democracy in the world’s conflict zones. Egypt’s uprising is the perfect opportunity for America to reflect on this reality of international politics, and to make a change. We cannot simultaneously fund democratic strides in Iraq and Afghanistan while our billion dollars of military aid opens fire on Egyptian teenagers defying curfew to shout “Freedom, God Wills It.” This protest is America’s protest, it was her founding cry in 1776, it is what our soldiers have died for in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Germany and Japan and on our own soil for the liberty of slaves.
We cannot send men to die for democracy and free societies in Iraq and Afghanistan while trampling others who want the same. Democracy in the Middle East is no simple task, and we must cheer its rising, especially when our soldiers need not die for it.
Some are afraid that an Islamic party may rise to power in Mubarak’s absence, and although that opinion is somewhat ignorant of Egypt’s moderate and tolerant undercurrents, an Islamic party is likely to be a part of a functioning Egyptian democracy. Democracy without an Islamic party (and that does not mean fundamentalist) in the Middle East is likely not possible, and we must realize what we wish for when we wish for Arabic democracies. We are dealing with a region of the world that interrupts their lives five times daily to pay respects to God, and to wish that out of their politics is unrealistic. To do so is akin to wishing the pro-life movement out of the United States or hoping that supporters of same-sex marriage would simply ‘drop it’. Islam has guidelines for its faithful and their participation politics, our nation’s primary religion has no such decree. I can be a religious christian and keep Christianity out of my politics because my Christianity does not order me into it. An Islamic political party is a natural step for any democratic, but very faithful muslim. We must be mindful that the United States is one of only a handful of nations in the world without an explicitly religious party, and that where there are religious parties, they are often outflanked by a ruling centrist majority.
But regardless of who may arise as the victor in Egypt’s eventual democratic contests – we must still cheer on their democratic demands, and while we need not demand Mubarak flee into exile, President Obama must demand he hold free and fair elections. This middle ground — between dictatorship and exile — is the way forward. We have nothing else to rightfully demand from another nation except free elections and respect for liberty. Mubarak has neither.
As a nation, we have refused to curtail our own simplest freedoms like the privacy of a phone conversation and miranda rights and we embark upon national uproar at TSA agents reaching between our legs; but our foreign aid dollar backs civil liberties nightmares far worse than this in Egypt. People who speak ill of the President are jailed, elections are not fair, corruption is rampant and a blind eye is turned to the “disappearance” of anti-government protestors. A water cannon ripping through a sign that pleads for freedom and knocking its bearer to the ground is not the actions of an any American friend. This doesn’t sound like an American ally because while Mubarak is an ally to America’s interests abroad, he is no friend to our ideals and what we believe as a nation.
Egypt must have freedom, Insh’Allah — God willing.