I had David Letterman on TV before I went to bed the other night. The guest, Tom Brokaw, discussed the recent events in Egypt within the context of our “extraordinary period of populist uprisings” since the fall of the Soviet Union, which in turn liberated millions of people and placed eastern European countries “on the right track.” Brokaw noted that “Jeffersonian democracy” and reform hasn’t necessarily taken place following the end of despised regimes. The process has not been smooth in the Philippines, South African, and other countries; Russia has a former KGB agent as president; the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s certainly did not result in a democracy. Years after Saddam’s ouster, Iraq still works toward democracy. In Egypt now, the military is still in control. Brokaw remarked that, when comparing democracies and dictatorships, the differences are qualitative rather than quantitative.
The next day, sitting at my favorite Barnes and Noble cafe, I started with a couple of online articles and then made a little “journey” among other articles. Starting with two religion sources, I found Christianity Today’s blog, where Timothy Morgan reported (Jan. 30, 2011) that one Coptic priest “has expressed his view that Christians should take part in peaceful protests in order to show solidarity with the thousands of Egyptians who are in the streets protesting for President Mubarak to leave office immediately.” Later in the article, the reporter noted that at that time, “It was unclear if evangelical churches in central Cairo were at risk.” (http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2011/01/egypts_churches_1.html; accessed 2/15/11).
Steven Thorngate, writing for The Christian Century’s blog, meanwhile notes that even though he wants to work for justice, he also prays for justice because his own effects are so small compared to God’s power. On the other hand, when President Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast that “we pray that the violence in Egypt will end,” Thorngate wishes Obama would use his tremendous influence to help direct Egyptian events: for instance, “by increasing pressure on …Mubarak to step down immediately—under threat of cutting the rather massive military aid the U.S. sends Egypt’s way.” But however the Egyptian events evolve, a related question, Thorngate notes, is America’s need to get “our own house in order when it comes to human rights,” since America’s “foreign policy is idealistic in rhetoric but pragmatic in fact, and it’s always strategic to pick a winner.” (http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2001-02/praying-egypt-isnt-enough; accessed 2/15/11).
Those comments made me “surf” some more, to a piece Jackie Northam, “Mubarak’s Fall Spurs Calls to Rethink U.S. Policy.” Northam writes, “The U.S. gave unwavering support to Mubarak because, among other things, he backed the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace accord, considered critical to stabilizing the region. Analysts say that treaty and other U.S.-backed policies enraged Egyptians and many others in the Middle East.” Northam quotes Rashid Khalidi, director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia’s School of International Public Affairs: “People have feelings about American policies–they have very strong feelings…I think we should take those views seriously. It doesn’t mean American policy is going to be determined by Middle Eastern public opinion, but in so far as countries in that region are able to develop credible democracies, the United States is going to have no alternative but to at least respect those opinions, even if it doesn’t necessarily agree with them.” Northam quotes another authority, James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, who believes the Middle Eastern public sees the U.S.’s support of Israel and would like the U.S. to treat other Middle Eastern countries the same. Meanwhile, according to Northam’s piece, Israelis have worried about the effect of Middle Eastern peace if the U.S. distances itself from Egypt and Jordan. (http://www.npr.org/2011/02/15/133763952/mubaraks-fall-spurs-calls-for-u-s-policy-rethink; accessed 2/15/11).
That led me to think of a Newsweek cover story, published in the mid-00s about emerging movements for democracy in the Middle East. I don’t have a copy and couldn’t immediately find the article online, but I did find an interesting piece by Niall Ferguson in the current Newsweek, “Wanted: A Grand Strategy for America,” wherein Ferguson sharply criticizes President Obama. When the “revolutionary wave of Middle Eastern democracy” swept Iran in 2009, “he did nothing, and the thugs of the Islamic Republic ruthlessly crushed the demonstrations.” In the case of Egypt, the President did not support Mubarak (dismaying the Saudis) but also did not lend “support to the youthful revolutionaries” and seek “to ride it in a direction advantageous to American interests.” Meanwhile–as Northam noted–Israelis feel insecure what will happen. (http://www.newsweek.co/2011/02/13/wanted-a-grand-stategy-for-america.print.html; accessed 2/15/2011).
I also found another Newsweek piece from last year, by Joshua Kurlantzick, “How Democracy Dies,” subtitled, “A global decline in political freedom is partly the fault of the middle class (March 12, 2010). Kurlantzick notes once the war on terror began, the West shifted attention from 1990s democratization movements. Unfortunately the Iraq war, and its connection to Iraqi democratization, “tainted” democracy among many Middle Easterners. But he also notes that the middle class in developing countries linked democracy with the recent economic downturns and thus have not encouraged democratization. He comments that “on nearly every continent, democracy is sputtering out,” and he names the Philippines, Cambodia, Russia, Venezuela, and Kenya as examples.
(http://www.newsweek.com/2010/03/11/how-democracy-dies.print.html; accessed 2/15/2011). Brokaw’s similar perspective is more hopeful.
An aspect of world movements worth watching is the increasingly widespread use of communication media. Lance Ulanoff’s article in PC Magazine, “What Do Egypt and Jeopardy! Have in Common?” noted the role of social media in the Egyptian protests. Although one can’t really call the protests a “Twitter/Facebook revolution,” since the protests continued after the Egyptian government ended Internet access, the role of social media in the formative stages of revolution are still notable.
(http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2380392,00.asp; accessed 2/15/2011.) In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman has already described the role of the Internet in globalization—scarily, in the recruitment of young men to groups like al-Qaeda. If the events of Egypt develop into a viable democracy, we may see an interestingly “Jeffersonian” aspect of communication technology in globalization.