Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the Wrong Side of Freedom... (is overthrowing dictators really a great thing?)

People around the world are cheering on the Egyptians as they throw off the shackles of an allegedly corrupt government. And, at first glance, 30 years is a long time for someone who is supposedly elected democratically to continue in office. After all, I like honesty. Let's call it what it is and it isn't democratic elections. So, in that sense, I hope and pray that Egypt find its way to an appropriately elected government that will resemble the type of democracy that will work best. But, having said that we, as Americans, are a bit arrogant (no really, we are, didn't you know that?). One of the places that we can see that arrogance shining through brightly is the idea that we continue to espouse as part of our global propaganda that every country should be "free" like us. That they should all have democracy (by which we mean our type of democracy). Now forgive me, but I'm not cheering too loudly.

So, let me tell you why. Our American focus on a US-style democracy fails to take into account that we've had more than 200 years developing it. We spent hard won days and nights, the blood of brothers and cousins and endless energy discovering what an American-style democracy is. Is there any reason we think we could simply take it wholesale and implement it in other places? Even if it were possible to, is there any reason this would work in a place that shares nothing culturally in common with the US? I can't imagine a single reason we should think this will work. Why wouldn't it take other countries fighting their own battles to understand themselves as people to get to a democracy that works for them? Even the US, which broke away from Britain, did not set up an identical democracy.

And yet, we believe that we can influence nations in the Middle East into democracy ala America. This, I assure you, will not work. There are many reasons that this idea is a fallacy. One of the first, the most important in my mind, is that there is no core belief in the protection of the minority. Majority rule means, in this part of the world, the majority does what it wants. One of the most important tenets of America's democracy is the protection of the minority. Without it, the entire system would fail. As Americans, we are raised believing that the majority must take care of the minority. We take protect and serve as a sacred goal.

How interesting, then, that some of my American friends here see no irony in the fact that they rail against the pork butcher and the stores that sell liquor because they are against Islam. These ladies choose not to support stores that sell liquor, to which I say kudos! Vote with your feet. But some call for the banning of all such places. Whenever I'm faced with this attitude, I try gentle reminders that there are also others here who are not Muslim. Why should they lose the right to eat bacon on a Sunday morning? Why should they be banned from purchasing alcohol? These people who were raised in a country that protects the minority lose sight of the minority here in Jordan.

So, I ask you, given that one of the sole movements in the region that has managed to pool political will is the Islamist movement, why would we expect that democracy would lead to anything other than an Islamic dictatorship? We saw this in the Taliban, didn't we? They were democratically elected and then went about making everything else illegal. In Gaza, we see this as well. We don't see places where people who were raised without this protection-of-the-minority mindset find democracy a liberating experience for all. And that's what worries me. As a minority (well many minorities actually), what's to say that overthrowing the current less-than-stellar guy is going to make a positive impact on the lives of the minorities? Often those autocratic governments are the very ones that are protecting the minorities in their realm. Really, can anyone really tell me the Christians in Iraq are better off now? How about the Sunnis?

Until a Middle Eastern country finds a way to successfully build a model for democracy that works within its cultural context, all we are doing is hastening the road to internal strife and civil wars. I sincerely hope that Egypt finds its way out of this current situation with a more positive leader. I hope that Tunisia does not find itself in another de facto dictatorship. But, I also hope that, in each case, they find a method that works without shoving out, killing, and persecuting the "others", the "different", in short the minorities...

Happy Freedom?


At 12:23 AM , Anonymous loolt said...

soo, once again democracy is only good when 'they' choose the right guy ;)

more importantly though. Democracy is not in itself a goal that people will fight for, if it was, how come the gulf states are not even thinking about it?

What is being fought for in Tunis and Egypt was/is not the right to choose it is for a decent life. It is for jobs. It is for dignity and self respect. It is in reaction to a lack of trust of the police and the government. To the police brutality that they suffered.

I am not cheering the Egyptians. It is not for me to judge what is good for them. Overthrowing a government has serious implications and may be followed by serious unrest and uncertainty. But maybe what they are living with is too much to bare, and so even uncertainty is welcome.

So for Egypt, I hope they get the humanity and dignified life that they want.

At 6:13 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Loolt, exactly. Somehow the US continues to equate, freedom is good only if we choose who makes you free. I also totally agree that clearly in both places, things have reached a boiling point where people needed an outlet to be able to make choices for themselves about what is right.

I agree with your hopes for Egypt. I hope that they find their way through to humanity and a dignified life for all...

At 11:56 PM , Anonymous UmmFarouq said...

One of the reasons I'm rooting for Mubarak to leave is that someone who has been exiled or who was an opposition leader with new ideas--not necessarily American ideas--really has a shot at coming in. I agree with you about the shambles created by the Taliban and the Shi'a Death Squads a-la-Iran, and what they've done to destroy what, in retrospect, wasn't *so bad* after all. (Ask someone educated in Iraq in the 80s if he or his family ever wanted for any of life's necessities. I believe he'll tell you, "no.")
But I have to believe that Egypt is different. I want to see the corruption and monopolies dissolved. I want to see the university graduates have the chance to make salaries of more than $100 per month. This is a country of 80 million people who suffer at the hands of so few wealth-holders. I don't think there is a quick fix, but I pray they will use their heads more than their hearts if given the chance to run with a newfound freedom.

At 1:52 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Umm F, I agree. As long as they find that right balance, I think they have an excellent shot. However, I also think it will require great patience. Somehow I think that so many of the factions calling to oust him haven't thought through the and then what... ;). That's when the hard work of creating the country they want will begin, but they will have to guard against extremism in all of its many, many forms to ensure that everyone is equally protected and represented. After all, it's easy to say get rid of poverty and awfully hard to do... especially in a country of 80 million :).

At 5:39 PM , Blogger Wamik said...

I disagree with your statement that America is a complete democracy,It is a disillusion in the name of democracy.The most powerful institution in america for ages has been the federal reserve instead of parliament.It is nothing but a corporate monoply and that's the style of democracy they want to see in middle east incase their puppet dictators face a retaliation.

At 10:03 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Wamik, I don't think there was a statement that America is a complete democracy. The Fed is very powerful and there are those who would argue that even the Congress (we don't actually have a Parliament) is less democratic than one could wish.

However, the subject of my post actually was that the American-style of democracy (regardless of which parts you like and/or dislike) will not work simply implemented in other parts of the world. Thanks for adding your thoughts.


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