Arabs are doing big things
February 1, 2011
What is happening now in North Africa and the Middle East should give people in the region and around the world a reason to hope. Although the outcomes of the revolt in Tunisia, the protests in Egypt, and the unrest in other Arab countries are not yet written; the strength of the popular uprisings have put the spotlight on human rights, and more importantly, on the oppressive regimes that deny those rights. Today, protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Alexandria, and all over Egypt are delivering a non-violent message to Hosni Mubarak that his government’s reign in Egypt is over. That message sits uncomfortably among governments around the world, like our own, who supported Mubarak at the expense of the Egyptian people.
Over the past week, we have seen that discomfort played out in the awkward reactions coming out of Democratic and Republican leaders and the Administration. As they applaud the aspirations of the protesters in Egypt on the one hand; they also hedge their bets by saying that Mubarak and his government are allies and call for restraint “on both sides.” That type of false equivalency and moral burden will surprise few in the Middle East who have come to expect the United States of America to act in their own short-term self interest.
Our country’s foreign policy is nothing like the ideals and vision that helped spark that remarkable Virginian in writing a deceleration of grievances against King George III a few centuries ago. There was nothing short-term or realistic about the Continental Congress deciding that democracy was worth creating a loose confederation of pioneers, blacksmiths, and farmers to oppose the world’s preeminent superpower. All over the world, the United States has given aid and comfort to leaders who have done far worse things to their people than marginally increasing the cost of tea without representation.
For some reason, the sanctity of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the words of our political forefathers, like Locke, Jefferson and Mill - stop at the water’s edge. Why is it that we believe that, for our citizens, restrictions to free speech and voting would neither be justified or effective in stamping out radicalism; whereas, for those who happen to live on a different piece of land, that they can be moderated through oppression? Those ideas that shaped the formation of the United States of America are more powerful than we know and, every time we deny that, we diminish the potential of our country. The situation in the Middle East should be evidence that our current foreign policy of “strategic partnerships” with leaders like Saddam Hussein and Mubarak is an, ultimately, self-defeating one.
If we are truly an exceptional country then we need to start believing in that which makes us unique as a country - not that which makes us the same as every other empire or superpower in history. While it’s not American troops or police who have been suppressing Egyptians - it is weapons and ammunition that are “Made in the USA” that litter the streets of Egypt after a protest is suppressed. If we are, as President Barack Obama exhorted during his State of the Union address, capable of doing big things, then surely stopping military aid to oppressive regimes would be one of the easier check boxes to tick off on the list of restoring America’s promise.
What is happening on the streets of Cairo is intertwined with the aspirations of that group of Boston physicians who gathered in a living room 50 years ago to form Physicians for Social Responsibility to advocate for a world free of nuclear weapons. A better world will not be created by leaders who believe in stability over all else but by those citizens who are willing to take a risk at an uncertain future defined by just and moral intentions. As we move forward, our organization will continue to advocate for a national security agenda that is moral, long-term in scope, and prevents what we can not cure.