2.22.2011

Painful, but not destructive

The birth of democracy is a beautiful thing. I've been waiting to weigh in on the developments in Egypt. Suffice to say I think it's really exciting. I want to be cautious and skeptical, but I can't help but think we're on the verge of something amazing.

For a moment, let's assume nothing will go wrong except for the expected growing pains. It's safe to say the military will attempt to remain in control of Egypt, but let's pretend overall democratic reform is successful and the military's control is lingering at best. There are two really exciting themes behind the uprisings. First - we get to witness the toppling of another dictatorial regime and the creation of another free state. In and of itself, it's something to be proud of as a human being. As an academic, it will be really interesting to see how the new democracy interacts with the US and other western states given its alleged significantly different values and opinions on middle-eastern policy.

Secondly, I can't help but feel giddy about the fact that this regime has been toppled by a mostly non-violent movement led and organized primarily by youth. Yes, there have been instances of protesters throwing rocks at police - but that can be dismissed as a lack of discipline and by the fact that Mubarak most definitely didn't step down simply because a handful of the protesters wielded stones.

The next big hurdle is Libya where protesters have been confronted with direct military assaults including the use of air craft and foreign mercenaries. Part of nonviolent strategy is about converting your opponent, and so far protesters have made a lot of headway. Two air force pilots defected and landed their jets on Malta instead of following orders to bomb protesters (cinematic, right?!) Other military defectors have been reported as well as some government officials.

Even if the military/police attacks on protests continue, nonviolent dissidents have more options in their "arsenal" which they can employ. Strikes and boycotts are more difficult to suppress than large congregations of people, and Eric Stoner at Waging Nonviolence points out that it was fear of strikes and boycotts paralyzing the country that ultimately led Mubarak to step down.

Finally, William Easterly at AidWatch aptly reminds us about our place as outsiders in the conflict:
The usual “don’t just stand there, do something” could result in counter-productive actions. Any military intervention would play into Qaddafi’s hand, especially since there really is nobody that can be trusted to do a “neutral humanitarian” intervention.

Trade embargo not a good idea — why punish the Libyan people? Libya’s opening to tourism and trade with the West in the last few years has arguably made this current revolt more possible, not less possible.

(True confessions: I went to Libya myself for a trek in the Sahara over Christmas holiday. And I have to also confess that, even being extremely skeptical of “benevolent autocrats,” I too was deceived that “Qaddafi had changed.”)

Too many NOs for you? Well here’s some Constructive NOs: NO to any aid to Libya, NO to any caving in to Libyan government contract blackmail, NO to arms sales, NO to “colonial reparations.” NO to “slavish” courting of Qaddafi (Feel free to apply any of all of that to you, Prime Minister Berlusconi).

YES to freezing foreign assets of the Qaddafi family, which the FT reports to be substantial (OK, Swiss?)

Ultimately the most proactive thing we can do as citizens in the west is hope for the best and help set a precedence and example of freedom and democracy here at home.

My sympathies and best wishes to aspirants of democracy in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and any other nations of people seeking freedom.

4 Intelligent Comment(s):

Michael said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful to see Democracy emerge on it's own from the people, instead of the clumsy hands of planners? Here's hoping these Democracies stick.

Jeremy Corbally-Hammond said...

It's true that if this sticks that the emergence of democracy there will be more organic and morally superior than our own nation's beginnings led by aristocrats with little input from nonvoting women, slaves and other disenfranchised ("un-enfranchised?") citizens.

That said, you have to give some credit to our fore-father-planners. Given the time, I'd hardly call them clumsy.

Abner said...

Stellar post, Jer. I am thrilled to watch people demand power from their oppressors with which to create their own ideal world (or, at least try). Beautiful stuff!
In regard to our founders, morality is relative to the time and place of its executors (pun not intended). While there were anti-slavery sentiments, pro-women and pro-non-land owner sentiments in the days of our founding, I would argue that they were barely behind the "morality curve" if at all. Thanks for recognizing this in your blog! I think it is entirely lost on our generation.

Abner said...

A few afterthoughts...shower-thoughts, really.
1) Although we all agree that it is great to see the overturn of oppressive nasty dudes via non-violent down-trodden folks, I'm curious if their non-violent tactics will prevail against the next guys with guns (what we, in the west, would refer to as terrorists) looking to fill the power-vacuum. That's a whole lot of tempting oil money to hold ransom!
2) Given the track record of middle eastern governments in muslim countries, I'm curious just how democratic the assumed self-governing system will be. Last I heard, women couldn't show their faces in public, much less own property or vote. Don't even ask about homosexuals, Christians or Jews if you'd like to still be the proud owner of a head or family tomorrow morning. Will they be replacing an oppressive dictator with a large group of self-governing dictators? Are these ridiculous laws part of the oppresive governments being overthrown, part of the society, part of the religion or a combination?

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