Friday, February 11, 2011
Mubarak resigned this morning.
The entire scenario playing out in Egypt is dispelling popular misconceptions so thoroughly that I hope we can lay some of these unfounded myths to rest forever:
#1 - There is a Culture War on.
Despite the best attempts of some the defining conflicts of our current age are not a continuation of the crusades. The fight is not between the Christian West and the Muslim Orient. Christians and Muslims have been protesting alongside each other in Egypt, and even protecting each other from sectarian violence. The enemy is political oppression, poverty, and injustice. It is an enemy which lives in the United States as well as the Middle East.
#2 - Arabs are backwards and hate-filled.
Egypt is the most populous Arab nation and is 90% Muslim. They have just managed to end 30 years of dictatorship without a war, in what was really a very sophisticated series of targeted protests. This is not a people who can't understand democracy. This is a people with a deep conviction in the authority of the people to hold their government accountable.
#3 - America is a force for spreading Democracy
If democracy is realized in Egypt it will be in spite vast amounts of money, diplomacy, weapons, and political influence expended by the U.S. to uphold a dictatorship there. We have been Mubarak's best friend and are even now working to keep Suleiman, a brutal enforcer, in power. Places in the Middle East where we have attempted to install democracy by force are stuck in a morass of perpetual Civil War. The best thing we can do for the spread of democracy at this point is get the hell out of the way.
#4 - Dictatorships are stable
Mubarak reigned for 30 years it is true. This gives the appearance of stability, but the cost to the region has been so immense and the failure of the regime seems so self-evident now that we must begin to realize that it is not in anyone's long term interest to continue to support oppressive governments. The arc of history bends toward justice. The powers and principalities are in their death throes. Everywhere justice and liberty will break out and take hold. It is past time we stopped putting short term gains ahead of long term peace.
#5 - Nonviolence doesn't work
A little more than two weeks of concerted nonviolent protests have brought down three decades of dictatorship. Who honestly believes an armed revolution or foreign military intervention would have been more effective? Conventional wisdom is that violent megalomaniacs like Mubarak cannot be reasoned with - that violence was our only option with Hitler, and Saddam, and now with Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il. The lesson we should take from Egypt is that peace is infinitely more powerful than war. One man on a cross broke the backbone of an empire. Even large scale geopolitical confrontations with entrenched militarily powerful and violent regimes can be won by unified nonviolent resistance.