Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Better the Devil You Know Than Democracy?

A Play
Act One:

Mount Vernon, Virginia, Spring, 1776

George Washington receives Benedict Arnold at his home:

Arnold: You know, George, if you persist down this path, you're going to rupture the delicate stability the British army have brought to the colonies. Just think what might happen if they're not in control. The French might make a land grab from the North and South, the Indians might sneak in and try to regain territories, even the slaves might take advantage of the chaos and rise up against us.

More importantly, just think of what a conflict could do to your crops this fall! All those soldiers trampling through your fields. It will take you years to restore them and recover your investment.

It's just too risky.
OK, so I'm no playwright, but flash forward with me to the current the United States and witness how many Benedict Arnold-type arguments we hear in response to the protests in Egypt.

From Fox News:
[M]any fear that if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak goes, the real replacement will be either the Muslim Brotherhood itself, or an Islamic fundamentalist group. El Baradei insisted on Sunday talk shows that the fear was unwarranted.

“This is total bogus that the Muslim Brotherhood are religiously conservative,” El Baradei told ABC’s “This Week.” “They are no way extremists. They are no way using violence.”

But critics point out that the Brotherhood, which was established in Egypt in the 1920's, is synonymous with political Islam which supports the use of Islamic law known as Sharia.

“Right now the Arab Republic of Egypt does not impose Islamic law in its fullness,” Rob Spencer, the head of Jihad Watch told FOX News. “The Muslim Brotherhood wants to change that.”
From Davos:
The head of the OECD said he feared the impact of the ongoing instability in Egypt.

"Anything that threatens development is a concern for us," says Angel Gurria.

"Anything?" Even if what threatens development is a genuine call for Democracy?

Yes the overthrow of an oppressive government can be messy and even deadly. But consider what else it can be.

From Kristof:

When I lived in Cairo many years ago studying Arabic, Tahrir Square, also called Liberation Square, always frankly carried a hint of menace. It was cacophonous and dirty, full of crazed motorists in dilapidated cars. That was way back at a time when the then-new Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, talked a good game about introducing democracy.

Now the manic drivers are gone, replaced by cheering throngs waving banners clamoring for the democracy they never got — and by volunteers who scrupulously pick up litter, establish order and hand out drinks and food.

“I’m going home right now to get food and drinks for the demonstrators,” one middle-age man, Waheed Hussein, told me as he hopped into his car near Tahrir Square shortly after curfew fell. While talking to me, he allowed a hitchhiker to jump in, and then the hitchhiker decided to bring back supplies as well. With great pride, the two new friends explained to me that this would be their contribution to the birth of an authentic Egyptian democracy.

In short, Tahrir Square has lost its menace and suddenly become the most exhilarating place in the world.

True believers in Democracy, as we in the US claim to be, could never support stability over freedom. Actually, any sensible person understands that it's a false choice anyway. As Benjamin Franklin noted "Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” You only postpone the inevitable violence, and right now what's happening in Egypt is much less violent than a lot of revolutions of late.

I understand the role Egypt has played in bringing calm to the Middle East and I understand that should President Mubarak survive the protests and remain in power that our calling for him to step down will not endear him to us. But the rationale for supporting the protesters' demands is sound. It's supposedly what we're all about. Obama has held off long enough. Yes, as the fictional Benedict Arnold argues in my melodrama, all this is risky, but it's still the right choice. Obama should call for Mubarak to resign.

Labels: politics


Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

I feel that Kristof frames it really well. I was just in Cairo two weeks ago with my father on a trip to see the pyramids. A 3 day trip does not qualify me as an expert on foreign policy in Egypt, but every News Reporter and TV talking head is going to frame it their own way. Two weeks ago there was no sense of this even possible. What happened is truly amazing! This is as true to a general population uprising as imaginable. The people no longer want Mubarak. 30 years of a relatively benevolent dictator is still 30 years of rule by a dictator. This was not started by the Muslim Brotherhood, they and other factions will of course try to steer the direction and try to take credit. I can understand a nervousness among Israeli supportive Jewish people. The extremists are few, most Egyptians simply want better jobs greater freedoms and a brighter future this uprising is not about Israel or the U.S.

I listened to Limbaugh (gag) yesterday and fear tactics are in full play. Egypt needs our hands-off but verbal support toward a more free more secular Government without Mubarak.

2/01/2011 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

The Western media fear-mongering pulpit continues to out-do itself.

Watching Al-Jazeera, yo :-)

2/01/2011 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Julie Sadler said...

It annoys me to no end how everything lately here in America seems to boil down to Muslim vs. Christian.
It's all about US> here in the U.S.
How seriously unfortunate for us all!

2/01/2011 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Oh, just to clarify: I listen to Limbaugh occasionally to know what the crazy windbag right is saying. Yes, I have to swallow down the v#mit, but I want to "know thine enemy" in order to know how to confront the lies.
Not that I'm carrying water for any team, but I know right from wrong.

2/01/2011 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

Totally agree. Even if a more democratic Egypt means a less secular one, that does not mean it will be a violent theocracy. The media seems to paint any anti-U.S policy speech or statements as the first step to suicide bombings.

Given how christian fundamentalists in this country have been operating/ influencing politics here the last few decades, how can we be critical of a similar element at work in a Muslim country? Does anyone think in our lifetime anyone but a professed christian will ever be elected president of the United States? Absolutely not.

2/01/2011 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

Bernard: understood, and I totally agree. My stomach is weak though :)

It's interesting to compare TV news with Internet/social media offerings, I seem to have things on and open simultaneously on all gadgets and monitors. So far, my favorite 'media' seems to be twitter and youtube generated: lots of first-hand footage, great off the cuff stuff from protesters, and some professionally edited video by documentarians doing their own thing, on the ground. Just wow.

2/01/2011 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the way things are unfolding, I don't think any amount of diplomacy is going to help anything. It looks like the people are pushing things in the direction of a civil war of sorts. I think more of this will be taking place around the world in the coming years. The real problem is going to be to figure out what our role or place is in all of this.

2/02/2011 03:04:00 PM  

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