Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Congrats Egypt and Tunisia


On Dec. 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi had his vegetable cart confiscated. He was 26-years-old, only a little older than most of us, and already he had to act as the sole income earner for a family of eight, including putting his sister through university. He faced, in his city of Sidi Bouzid, an unemployment rate of 30 percent, and had never graduated from high school. The police confiscated his cart, his only means of making a living for his family, almost every day, and on Dec. 17, 2010, Muhammad immolated himself in protest. His sister later summed up the family’s situation in an interview with Reuters: “In Sidi Bouzid, those with no connections and no money for bribes are humiliated and insulted and not allowed to live.”

His death sparked protests to overthrow the corrupt, totalitarian government of Tunisia, headed by “President” Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The protests grew into a movement against corruption, for liberal democracy, and, after a little less than a month, they succeeded in overthrowing the totalitarians.  Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.

Next, the rioting and the revolutionary spirit spread to Egypt. Millions of protesters spent weeks in Tahrir Square and Liberation Square, in the major cities of Cairo and in Alexandria, trying to bring down the authoritarian government of “President” Hosni Mubarak. The protesters marched against ultra-high unemployment, high food prices, political repression, the police state and lack of democracy. Trade unions played a large part in the organization of these protests. More attempted self-immolations occurred. In the end, Mubarak actually resigned and left the country.

Currently there are protests in Yemen, Jordan and Algeria.

Or in other words, revolutionary liberal democratic protests by the people of Tunisia and Egypt have overthrown totalitarian and authoritarian governments that had reigned for a generation. To repeat: civilian protests have overthrown governments in the Arab world with liberal democracy as their goal. “Revolutionary” is the word I use for this because there can be no other. After decades of repression, liberals in the Arab world have risen up and claimed their rightful place on the political stage of their countries. This is awesome, amazing, and awe-inspiring. The new government (or rather, slightly reorganized government) in Egypt has even said that they will maintain their peace treaty with Israel.

This revolution has overturned the predominant Western view of the Middle East. This view is: Islamists (on the left), authoritarian nationalists (on the right). This view is: the West must choose to either support authoritarian nationalists for the sake of our foreign policy interests or suffer the people’s anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Enlightenment wrath of totalitarian Islamism. This has been the excuse for supporting Jordan’s monarchy, Egypt’s dictatorship, Tunisia’s dictatorship and the corrupt, terrorism-mongering Saudi Arabian oil monarchy. This was the excuse that gave us Saddam Hussein, the Shah Mossadegh of Iran, and Musharraf of Pakistan. This was the excuse that gave us a generation of Arab and Persian youth who cannot make livings for themselves and who cannot afford to get married.

It has lasted far, far too long, and this revolution annihilates it once and for all. Not one question remains: the United States and the Western world must stand behind liberal democracy in the Arab world and the Muslim world. We must stand up for liberal democracy, for religious pluralism, for economic equality and opportunity, for solidarity and for social democracy. Arabs, as it turns out, are people just like us. They want opportunity to make a living, they want to have families and they want a government that follows their voice and their ideals.

Hillary Clinton, for the American response to this genuine upwelling of liberalism, ought to retire.  Rather than support the peoples of Egypt and Tunisia, she stood on the sidelines and shook her head at the loss of the dictator’s stability. I have a message for her: democracy is not “stable,” it is free, and her longing for “stability” really indicates a lack of fitness to serve in the government of a democratic nation. She and the two parties, Democratic and Republican, deserve to taste the actions of a free people rather than a stable situation.

Some will undoubtedly answer that we should not support democracy in the Middle East because it will bring Islamism. This is silly. If it brings Islamism, it brings Islamism, though the Muslim Brotherhood has at least said that it will not field candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. If it brings Islamism and the newly Islamist governments of the Middle East attack Europe, America or Israel, we shall defend ourselves from the attack. Obviously we don’t wish for war, but if, God forbid, Islam-fascists do take power in an Iranian-style coup, we can bravely face them down and defeat them.

However, we have no right to hurt the actual rights and solidarity of real people today for fear of an event that not only might never happen, but that we cannot prevent, if it will happen. Despite all inadvertent efforts by the Bush administration to poison the well, it honestly appears as though liberal democracy is winning the war of ideas in the Middle East. We owe victory to our principles, at home and abroad.

 Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • B

    BenFeb 21, 2011 at 12:06 am

    “To repeat: civilian protests have overthrown governments in the Arab world with liberal democracy as their goal”

    Doubtful. Very doubtful. More like sharia being their goal. Why is it okay for you to insinuate that they all have one goal (democracy) but when I point out the Islamist element of the crowds, I’m told that they aren’t “monolithic”. It’s like they really are monolithic, unless they monolithically stand for something that doesn’t sound as nice as democracy. Then they’ve widely disparate groups, lacking any cohesive philosophy holding them together.

    “After decades of repression, liberals in the Arab world have risen up and claimed their rightful place on the political stage of their countries.”

    Please define liberal. If I told you that I thought that men and women should be segregated at work, that homosexuals should be put to death, and that women who are raped should have to provide four male witnesses or be killed for adultery, would you call me a “liberal”? That’s what Sharia law decrees. Sharia demands that anyone who leaves Islam be killed, that infidels being converted by the sword or forced to pay a dhimmi tax and live with zero political rights.

    In Egypt, 64% said that sharia should be the only source of law. An additional 24% said that it should be one source of law. These are the “liberals” of which you speak.

  • B

    Ben AFeb 20, 2011 at 7:59 pm


  • A

    ArafatFeb 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Ben A,

    It’s you who needs to brush-up on your knowledge of Mohammed, not me.

    Here’s some material to get you started:

  • B

    Ben AFeb 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I am not sure that responding would make any difference, but you should read a BOOK about the prophet Mohamed and then you can judge whether or not he “pillaged his way to power and wealth”.
    Fyi: he died poor just like Jesus(pbuh) and Moses (pbuh).
    The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were done by Muslims, Christians and Jews who live in those countries and were not based on religion.

  • B

    boris IlfovFeb 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    ^^^Let me say that Muhammad didn’t even exist, nor Jesus, nor Moses. These Totalitarian states are the result of purely mortal folly; without which, the world could not do.

  • A

    ArafatFeb 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    It should be noted that Iranians were celebrating and dancing in the Tehran streets after the Shah was despoed. Now 30+ years later they are thrown in jail for dancing.

    The only way for the people of the Middle East (all of Islam for that matter) to experience true democracy is to free themselves from the shackles of Islam.
    Islam and democracy are incompatible and anyone who says Indonesia is an example they are simply showing just how dire Islamic democracies are.
    Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Oman, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kirgizstan, etc…
    Name one country from this or any list of Islamic dominated countries where one can freely criticize Islam, convert from Islam, proselytize for any other religion, draw pictures of Mohammed, criticize Saudi Arabia, openly practice homosexuality or Judaism, be a free woman with all this implies.
    So please don’t blame Egypt’s problems on America. I would bet money that if America could foster true democracy in any Muslim country it would, just as it fostered freedoms and democracy in Germany and Japan after WWII.
    Quit blaming their problems on anyone but them and their backwards-looking religion.
    Finally, let me say, Mohammed was Islam’s first political leader. He refused to acknowledge a separation of mosque and state as Jesus did (Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…). Mohammed was a theocratic despot who killed, raped, enslaved and pillaged his way to power and wealth.
    This is who Muslims look to for direction, no? Not to America, but to Mohammed and therein lies the tale of the tape.

  • B

    Ben AFeb 16, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Very realistic approach and good observations. I am from Tunisia and have been closely following the events unfold. The Tunisian people and then the Egyptians have showed the world that you don’t need war and billions of dollars to establish a democracy… you just need the will to have It. That being said,they still have work to do but hopefully the hard part is over. I am glad to see that a lot of Americans are beginning to realize that we are all human beings and we just want to live in peace.