Congrats Egypt and Tunisia

By Eli Gottlieb


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]