NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, July 29th, 2013

American-ness and the Promise of Global Democracy

As gov­ern­ments tran­si­tion and Egypt is fig­ur­ing out what to do in the after­math of a mil­i­tary coup, it is impor­tant to rec­og­nize this is not an event devoid of con­text, but is a prod­uct of a long his­to­ry, one in which we have had no small part.

“Wait a sec­ond”, it might be said,“what’s with call­ing this a ‘coup’? The peo­ple want­ed Mor­si out, and that’s what happened!”

In the lead-up to the ouster of Pres­i­dent Mohamed Mor­si, we saw some of the largest protests in his­to­ry, with mil­lions of peo­ple out on the streets. Peo­ple were angry, either because of being too con­ser­v­a­tive or not con­ser­v­a­tive enough, and he shut key allies out of deci­sions while work­ing to lim­it the rights of com­mu­ni­ties inside Egypt. In terms of val­ues, he’s some­one who should be vehe­ment­ly opposed with, and as evi­denced by the protests before he was deposed, mil­lions of Egyp­tians agreed. (The Huff­in­g­ton Post has a use­ful time­line of the events lead­ing up to Mor­si’s ouster)

But a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-elect­ed head of state being removed by mil­i­tary force is an action which should give pause to observers of the situation.

What’s hap­pen­ing in Egypt is a sit­u­a­tion that must bring out the shades of gray, because as par­lia­men­tary elec­tions and con­sti­tu­tion­al ref­er­en­dum were plagued by low-turnout, and the for­mer Pres­i­dent gov­erned with a con­stant neglect of wom­en’s rights and reli­gious minori­ties, there is lit­tle evi­dence that the after­math is much bet­ter, as sup­port­ers of Mor­si are being sub­ject to vio­lent crack­downs and mass killings. This crack­down on dis­sent does not lead to the rule of law and a healthy democ­ra­cy just as much as the dis­re­spect­ing a vote of the people.

Many peo­ple praise the new Egypt, ratio­nal­iz­ing that it will lead to an Egypt that is more pro-Amer­i­can, one that we can work with more and will like us bet­ter. Not only do these thoughts uphold a dou­ble stan­dard, but it removes from dis­cus­sion the role that the Unit­ed States has had in uphold­ing repres­sive regimes in the area, and our own path through history.

The Unit­ed States had a strong role in prop­ping up Hos­ni Mubarak’s repres­sive 30-year regime, through mil­i­tary equip­ment and oth­er tools to advance our inter­ests. While we gave him the tools to fur­ther his rule, Mubarak restrict­ed press free­dom, stran­gled polit­i­cal par­ties, and let police bru­tal­i­ty con­tin­ue with impuni­ty. Repres­sion does not remove beliefs, but rather inten­si­fies them, and when Mubarak was removed, it should not have been sur­pris­ing that many deeply-seat­ed reli­gious views, and anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment from both our han­dling of Mubarak’s exit and our pre­vi­ous actions came to dom­i­nate the polit­i­cal sphere of the country.

We must not for­get how messy democ­ra­cy is, our own includ­ed, and we can­not judge the health of a democ­ra­cy by how much the par­tic­i­pants like the Unit­ed States. We must not think that a mil­i­tary not under the con­trol of elect­ed offi­cials is a good thing, because it’s abil­i­ty to inde­pen­dent­ly use force is unable to be checked by a vote of a peo­ple, but rather its own sat­is­fac­tion and good grace. Final­ly, we must believe in the pow­er of any peo­ple to self-gov­ern, lest we con­tin­ue new con­cepts of impe­ri­al­ism (such as that advanced by David Brooks) which sup­pose that some­how in the Unit­ed States we became equipped to gov­ern our­selves by the wave of a mag­ic wand, rather than a long and tedious process which still dis­en­fran­chis­es peo­ple of col­or, queer folks, indige­nous peo­ple, and the poor.

Right now peo­ple are dying in the Egypt for oppos­ing the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, a gov­ern­ment brought in by force (a change which many in the Unit­ed States have applaud­ed), and unless peo­ple are able to use democ­ra­cy and the rule of law to help shape the direc­tion of their coun­try, it will be hard­er for them to move past the rad­i­cal views engen­dered by decades-long repres­sion and sti­fling of polit­i­cal thought. We can look on at the deci­sions made by Egypt­ian democ­ra­cy and dis­agree with them, but if we inter­fere with those choic­es we are allow­ing for our­selves what we would not give for them; if we do that, then we’re say­ing we real­ly don’t believe in the idea of democ­ra­cy itself.

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