In Egypt, Words to Live By
On NBC’s Meet the Press, New York Times columnist and gasbag Thomas Friedman, who rarely makes a cogent point these days, reflected on a running joke he’d heard while living in Egypt.
In the joke, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak was ill and the people of Egypt sent a message through his emissaries that they’d like to see him and say goodbye. Upon being told that the people wanted to say goodbye to him, Mubarak quipped, “why, where are they going?” Friedman, surprisingly, surmised that the joke just isn’t funny anymore. He’s right. Egyptians are fed up.
As Egyptian protesters increasingly up the ante, it is even more unlikely that Mubarak will maintain his grip on power. This is a good thing. And if the protests we’re seeing across the Arab world are any indication, more straw men will fall before the passions finally calm. From the Green protests in Iran, to the overthrow of the Tunisian President, to Egypt to Jordan, the Arab world has been set ablaze.
Sadly, and predictably, many paid American pontificators have been asking all the wrong questions and reaching all the wrong conclusions. The question you hear from most commentators is ‘what does this mean for the U.S?’ or ‘what action should a great democracy like the U.S. take in the face of the opposition to Mubarak’s regime?’
Firstly, this is not about us. This is about freedom. Egyptians have the right to live and govern as they please, whatever the outcome. And the U.S. has the obligation to allow sovereign nations to plot their own course to self-governance, unhindered by coercion from the West. Secondly, as a moral question, we should never have been in the business of propping up violent dictators or undermining free elections or freely elected leaders. Now, our inaction is more impactful than our action.
In his 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama boldly asserted to Egyptians that “given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail”. Asking ‘what about the U.S.’ undermines President Obama’s comments and opens the door for America to, once again, impose her will on the Arab people. Now, at a time when we’re witnessing the rot of the fruits of U.S. paternalism is the perfect time for a course correction.
In the days and weeks going forward, we’re sure to hear calls for pragmatic action from both think tank gurus and national security jackals. But in epoch times like ours, we should be wary of all who call for pragmatism since pragmatism is a stalling tool used by the powerful to initiate action intended to interrupt the momentum necessary to bestow freedom upon the powerless. Equally, we should avoid the ‘devil we don’t know’ argument.
Whispers of this argument are already being advanced by those who believe that the Muslim Brotherhood may fill the leadership void if Mubarak’s regime is ousted. Those who make this argument believe that the devil we know, Mubarak, is better than the devil we don’t know – at least so far as U.S. interests are concerned. And for what it’s worth, they may very well be right. It is still, however, not our call. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over and if they present a problem for the U.S., then we should deal with it then – not pre-emptively.
For America, this is our era of reckoning. If we believe in the words of Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech or those of Thomas Jefferson, who thought that we should have “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none, “then it’s time we live by those words. For far too long, the U.S. has been immersed in the avarice and grabbiness which have come to define all Western nations. We need only look around and bear witness to the deterioration of an empire to know that our blueprint will always inevitably give way to organic upheaval.
All bad jokes aside, it may be the people of Egypt who are finally saying good riddance to their dictator. And if the U.S. has any virtue left, then it should be us who look the Egyptian people squarely in the eye and congratulate them on a job well done.
Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill Staffer turned political blogger. She currently publishes two blogs, Spatterblog.com and GoGirlGuide.com.