30 January 2011

Egypt: What color is your revolution?

Suddenly it looks a lot like 1989, if not 1848, in the Arab world. Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution" has sparked uprisings elsewhere, most dramatically and ominously in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak has ruled with ample American aid since the assassination of Anwar Sadat almost thirty years ago. Is this the springtime of democracy predicted by neocons in the aftermath of the American conquest of Iraq? It seems unlikely. I'm not aware of anyone in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen or Jordan saying that they want what Iraq's got, though some Egyptians, at least, have emulated the Iraqis by looting their national museum. The U.S. has supposedly wanted democracy to spread in Arab lands, but now that the Egyptian masses appear to have stood up, many Americans are terrified. How will this effect the movement of oil through the Suez Canal? How will it impact Egypt's Palestinian neighbors in Gaza? Will Islamists come to the fore? What would that mean for Israel? Will there be truly democratic elections? If so, will we see the sort of "one man, one vote, once" phenomenon Americans worry about so much? The price of oil has already jumped, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has already dropped. Everything is interrelated in our globalized age, but as long as we remain divided into sovereign nations, how accountable should one democracy have to be to another? Some Americans would clearly rather not see democracy break out in Egypt. Since that nation was already friendly with Israel, and already a happy recipient of millions in American aid, democracy probably doesn't seem necessary there. It was the dictatorships, the presumed enemies of America, that needed democratization, the neocon presumption being that greater democracy in a place like Syria, for instance, would automatically mean kinder feelings toward the U.S. and Israel. Now, some fear that greater democracy in Egypt will mean greater enmity toward Israel and the U.S. But we were also told that democracies don't war on one another, that they're inherently peaceful. But if more democracy won't mean more peace in the Middle East, that should force us to rethink our presumptions, not only about the dependence of peace upon political systems, but about the reasons for enmity toward America in that troubled region.

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