With the latest turmoil in Egypt I have been intending to write something on the subject for quite a while. But after reading this article on Slate I realized that almost anything I could add to the debate would only reflect the hubris that has characterized the American approach to the unfolding unrest happening across the Middle East.
It is now plainly obvious that our tacit support of militarily backed dictatorships for the sake of our national interests and stability in the region has run it’s course. There is currently a debate as to the effectiveness of that policy and it’s ramifications that may never be settled even by historians yet to be born. Scholarly arguments will be made from all angles and I am simply not qualified to sit at that table. But one thing is clear that at some point the people of Egypt and the Middle East came or are in the process of coming to understand what advanced democracies like ours have known for some time. That a pluralistic approach to governing is the only currently known way to live in peace with your neighbors, your friends and even your family.
Omar, the author of the article, is identified as a liberal Egyptian. Perusing his other writings I detected bits of Anti-Americanism. I’m sure that we would not agree on everything but I’m also certain that we would discuss our differences peacefully and perhaps even reach a compromise. His country needs more people like him and we need to get used to the fact that they are not all necessarily on our side and that’s the way it has to be. He ultimately points the finger squarely at the military but there are indications that he sees the divisions between his own people. What happens after they defeat their military oppressors will be the true test of their march to freedom. I wish him and his people the best of luck in their struggle not just with their generals but also with themselves. Reading his article reminded me that we too once fought amongst ourselves and many lives were lost yet we survived and prospered.
This is the last paragraph in his article:
I cannot stand up to death today. Today I am a coward who can only write. I see the revolution being dragged away to be shot over a shallow grave and I don’t know what to do. But I do know that, before it’s too late, we will grab it, we will fight for it. We have to, or we will never be able to live with ourselves.
The last line brought to my mind the closing words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
He titled his article “Everything Was Possible“. I would argue it still is, for him and the rest of the region. Though they thought they had arrived recent events prove they are not there yet. And pointing that out isn’t hubris considering the length and depth of American experience.