The Truth About Egypt & Tunisia's Uprising And What Americans Can Learn From It
On January 21st TWV posted a news story highlighting the status of the uprising in Tunisia. Looking back, the last sentence of that post foreshadows today’s events; warning “…if America doesn’t step in to facilitate formation of a true democracy in Tunisia, as well as in Egypt, then we could be looking at more revolts in the near future.” Just one week later, the happenings in Tunisia have served as a catalyst to the long overdue rally for freedom in Egypt, as well as similar outbreaks in Jordan, Algeria and Yemen. With North African and Middle Eastern countries overthrowing their governments, Americans are asking themselves “What does this mean for us?”
Last week citizens in Cairo, Egypt took to the streets to demand an end to the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak. The demonstrations led to strict curfews as well as Friday’s orderly shut down of the internet – Egyptian government’s first attempt to ensure that the revolution would not be televised, or mobilized for that matter. It did little to silence the cries of the oppressed. According to the Los Angeles Times protesters could be heard chanting “Mr. Mubarak, wake up — today is your final day in power!” As reported by the Associated Press, riot police opened fire on protesters in the center of Cairo as a large group attempted to rush the Interior Ministry. Over the course of the week hundreds of demonstrators have been killed, and inmates have been escaping from prisons as army helicopters and tanks attempt to maintain control while keeping violence to a minimum.
In President Obama’s recent State of the Union address he asserted that “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.” Nonetheless critics have wondered why he didn’t also mention the liberation that was unfurling in Tunisia’s neighboring Egypt. Should we not be facilitating a shift to democracy in autocratic nations across the globe? No doubt, that type of international reform strengthens and protects our own democracy. Obama’s call to Mubarak urging him to use caution when dealing with protesters seemed more reactive than proactive, and supports claims that the U.S. is treading lightly due to their longstanding relationship with the aging ruler.
Although Mubarak has refused to step down, he did quickly make some notable changes. One was the dismissal of his cabinet and appointment of Omar Suleiman as the first ever Vice President during his regime. But the appointment, along with that of Ahmed Shafik as Prime Minister only serves as a band-aid over an open wound, as the 82-year old hasn’t communicated plans for reform. Additionally, Suleiman; a high ranking intelligence agent for Mubarak, isn’t much of a relief for Egyptians. Power hasn’t been passed on within the Mubarak family as feared, but Suleiman may still represent the 30-year rule by association. Mustafa Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies told the Los Angeles Times, “Egyptians will not accept Suleiman as leader of the country after Mubarak because of his connection to the old regime.” Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has also expressed sentiments of too little too late. “This is a change of personnel, and we are talking about the change of a regime,” he said on Al Jazeera satellite television.
Additionally, the U.S.’s gingerly treatment and Secretary of State Clinton’s generic statements on the situation may be adding insult to injury. The United States has not threatened to cut off aid or support to Mubarak pending an end to the unrest. And while there have been calls for peace at every juncture, there hasn’t been a clear and forceful statement made to show that the needs of the people are the priority. The caution could be strategic, as Egypt under the rule of Mubarak has been one of America’s strongest allies.
Aside from political ramifications, the discord does involve America in other critical ways. The demonstrations have not only affected the Egyptian economy; sending their benchmark stock index plummeting 6 percent, but the American economy as well. According to the Washington Post the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 1.8 percent to close at 1276.34, while the Dow Jones industrial average slid 1.4 percent to 11,823.70. Egypt’s control of the Suez Canal; a key shipping route for the oil trade, has also altered prices. CNBC reported that US oil prices rose $.60 to more than $90 a barrel.
Still, the most profound way that the situation in Egypt, as well as Tunisia, should affect Americans, is to inspire that we take full advantage of the rights afforded us. Take Egypt’s internet shut down, for example. The attempt to thwart the organization of the movement was easily orchestrated with only four ISPs in the entire country. A similar move would be almost impossible in the United States, but not if Senator Joe Lieberman’s (I-Conn) proposed bill for an internet kill-switch is passed. The bill would authorize the President to shut down the World Wide Web and obligate internet providers to cooperate. It is our responsibility to be aware of potential threats to our constitutional rights, and what we can do to protect them.
Egyptians are fighting for the fundamentals: transparency and honesty from their government, economic opportunity, and social freedom. If our youth were as engaged in our democracy, imagine what could be accomplished. We are fortunate to live in a country where we can participate in the governing process. Let’s learn from the strength of the Egyptians in the face of dictatorship, and stop taking our civil liberties for granted.