Thursday, February 10, 2011

Measure of Democracy: Arab Uprising


For the last few days and weeks I have been watching the developments in Tunisia and Egypt with much apprehension and doubt reliving the past.  I have been through the youth radicalization of the 60s and 70s in the U.S., campaigned and participated in the overthrow of the Shah more than three decades ago – becoming emotionally overwhelmed and at times feeling drowned in the mass protests of 1978 and 79 in Iran.  With those experiences I could identify with the hopes and fears of the young Tunisians and Egyptians who were pouring into the streets.  I could see myself in them and their boundless energy, in their eyes full of hopes for a new future and full of fear about what might lie ahead.   They are pushing forward relentlessly changing the Middle East.

Mr. Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic in Iran, claims that uprisings of Egypt and Tunisia are Islamic revolutions copying the Iranian blue print.  Glenn Beck of Fox News is more or less of the same opinion.  He advertises that this is a plot to re-create a world Caliphate, an Islamic order which would encircle and overtake Europe.  And a threatened U.S. has to plan to fight for its survival.  Anti-imperialist leftists think this is the dawn of a new anti-imperialist front joining their shrunken ranks.
Welcoming the new developments in Egypt, Western democracies, particularly the United States, look at it from their old habits of how to control it by gauging their interests.  They debate what policies to follow, their interactions with it – should they assist it, or should they prepare themselves to choke the life out of it.
The news media pundits continuously try to predict what the outcome would be like.  Would it be like a true democracy, freedom of expression, thought and assembly, one person one vote – a democratic and often unequal struggle of interests?  That is a possibility; with the spectrum of all interests on full display can the political leaders in Egypt sit together and devise a framework?  Conceptually that should not be too hard, there are plenty of blueprints out there, the U.S. constitution for one.  Would it be a strong state like Burma, an oligarchy of military men creating a choke hold on the society, putting their narrow interests first?  That is a possibility, after all the Egyptian military has a broad and deep interest in all economic and political operations in the country since 1952, the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser.  Could it be a Turkish model where the military would create a secular, anti-communist framework – the military seems to have such potentials?  Would it lead to a complete breakdown of all state institutions, whereby the most organized, Muslim Brotherhood, would take over and lead Egypt into an Iranian type of Islamic government?  Can a charismatic leftist leader emerge and lead it to a Cuban or Venezuelan model?  Could it lead to a civil war with unforeseen consequences?
While a variation of each case is a possibility, they are unlikely.  How should one view the developments in Egypt, North Africa and the Arab world?  Is there a measure of democracy?
One important measure of it is the connected youth of that region which I hope to follow in the next segments.

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