Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt and the Middle East

I don't claim to be an expert on everything that's going on in Egypt right now, but what I do know is what's happening is nothing short of extraordinary.

The people took to the streets in Cairo today, demanding a new government through legitimate democratic elections. Current President Hosni Mubarak has ruled his nation for the past three decades, clamping down on dissent from all angles (ranging from critics that are both religious and secular).

His rule is no longer accepted by the people. They demand fair elections where they can choose for themselves their own leaders and representatives. They also demand democratic rights such as free speech and an open press.

Today, in response to the protesters, President Mubarak announced he would not seek re-election in September of this year. The people of Egypt remain defiant, continuing to demand his immediate departure from government.

With any revolutionary event, it's critical that democracy -- and with it, a preservation of rights -- wins out in the end. Many politicians and pundits from around the world are fearing a repeat of the 1979 takeover of Iran by Muslim fundamentalists, where the iron fist of the shah was simply replaced by veiled democracy controlled by the ayatollah.

But by all accounts thus far, this event isn't anything like the Iranian revolution. The main players behind the movement are both religious AND secular.

From the AP:
Protesters jammed in shoulder to shoulder: farmers and unemployed university graduates, women in conservative headscarves and women in high heels, men in suits and working-class men in scuffed shoes.
The largest oppositional group to the current Egyptian administration, the Muslim Brotherhood, is itself less radical than what most people perceive it to be; even so, the organization refused to participate initially in this current protest, fearing that doing so would result in the movement losing momentum.

The fears of another fundamentalist takeover, then, are unfounded, or at the very least premature. These aren't fundamentalists who are taking to the streets of Cairo; they're a strong coalition of people who are demanding democratic rights, for both religious and secular people of Egypt. They may not agree on everything politically, but they do agree on the need for a new government, one that puts its faith in the people rather than an autocratic leader.

It's a promising trend that seems to be coming forth within the Middle East this year. Just last month, the people of Tunisia had a similar protest that changed the face of their nation as well; facing similar protests in his country, King Abdullah II in Jordan dismissed his government this week and plans to institute more democratic reforms in the coming months to placate dissidents.

As Americans, we ought to support the call to remove Mubarak from power, to put in his place a responsible government that is a true reflection of the people of Egypt, and to expand democratic rights throughout the entire Middle East. We may not always see eye-to-eye with the Egyptian government following its transition to democracy; but democracy in place of dictatorship is always preferable, especially in a region such as the Middle East.

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