Sunday, February 13, 2011

Countdown to Democracy Day 364

I received two basic types of responses to my initial post announcing that I have started a one-year Countdown to Democracy for Egypt. Some responses took the announcement at face value: an optimistic, hopeful, encouraging monitoring of the development of democracy in a bellweather Arab nation. Others, knowing that I can be quite skeptical and often cynical, thought they noted a bit of sarcasm in my explanation. (What does it say when the two kids who responded sense that in your writing? They know their dad well?)

The truth is that, like many I suspect, I feel both currents running through me at the same time. On the one hand, who cannot feel for a people who have the courage to stand up against a dictator and demand that their voices be heard? Who cannot hope that this means people will be free to say what they wish, worship how they want to, and, hopefully, live in peace with their neighbors. On the other hand, I can be a skeptic and I do think skepticism, even a bit of cynism, is in order. The fact of the matter is that the record of Arab nations throwing out tyrants and turning their countries into tolerant, pluralistic, peace-seeking nations is, to put it politely, a bit thin. One can debate why that is, but only someone who is completely blind to the real world would deny it.

It is heartening that, at least from the media I have been watching here in Israel, there did not seem to be an overwhelming outpouring of blame or hatred toward Israel and Jews expressed by the demonstrators. Their focus seemed to be Mubarak and his cronies. And, while understandably agitated and emotional, the crowds were generally peaceful and orderly. [The primary electronic media I see in Israel is CNN International, which would be more accurately named CNN Gulf States International, because just about everything is sponsored by or produced in conjunction with one of the Gulf states; BBC; French Network's English language news, and, yes, I will admit it, occasionally Fox.]

However, the polls taken in the Arab world by Pew Research about a year or two ago were very discouraging. The results for Egypt showed percentages in the 70 and 80's for such things as chopping off limbs for criminal acts, dominance of Islam, unequal treatment of women and minorities, and the like. Not exactly the stuff that tolerant democracies are built on.

So, I am of two minds and many emotions: I hope and pray that a free, democratic, peaceful Egypt will come to be. On the other hand, I seriously doubt that it will happen. The history and the evidence just aren't there. Still, while guarding against what could develop, the free world should do everything it can to support what should develop. We have no other choice.

A few random thoughts:

As I wrote this, the Egyptian military suspended the Constitution and scattered the protestors from the square. Not an auspicious beginning to "building democratic institutions." On the other hand, it beats a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood and a repudiation of the peace agreement.

Gee, how the heck did Mubarak keep getting 97% of the vote in the presidential elections and then become so unpopular? How come most of the world treated him like a legitimately elected president? Until last week I seldom heard anyone, including the leader of the free world, refer to Mubarak as a dictator.

I'm not the only one asking this one: Why, after some twists and turns, the U.S. Administration seeems to have struck the right tone and position on the Egyptian revolution, supporting the wishes of its people to be free, but it did not get there for the Iranians when it counted? It seems that the Iranian case was a lot more clear-cut. As bad as Mubarak was, he was a bit player in the annals of deranged tyrants compared to Ahmadinajad. Mubarak never threatened to annihilate six million Jews. Mubarak, as far as we know, was not developing a nuclear weapon. Mubarak was not stoning women who are alleged to have had extra-marital sex, and he was not hanging gays. [Yes, Saudi Arabia should be on the agenda soon.] Yet, we left the Iranian people hanging. (Pardon the expression.) Why? Statements in the last few days might indicate that the President is now speaking more explicitly in support of the Iranian dissidents. Unfortunately, the old saying "better late than never" may be just that: an old, stupid statement. I don't fault an Administration for adapting policy, evolving its positions, re-thinking approaches. But, the Administration's seeming desire to initially try dancing with the Iranian government was a very naive, seemingly fatal effort.

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