Support the Arab Spring!

Last week Alicia and I went to a CNN forum at Emory about the future of the Arab Spring.  I thought it was good but there was a suprising amount of technical issues, the topic was a bit broad, the moderator was prone to cutting off good discussion, and when Alicia and I rode the scooter home we froze our little butts off, but that last part probably had less to do with the forum than other things.

Two people on the panel stood out that I want to put on your radar screen.

Dalia Ziada is director of the Egypt office of the American Islamic Congress which focuses on building interfaith and intercultural understanding.  She is a published poet and active in pro-democracy politics.  

 

Lamees Dharif is an award-winning journalist and activist who has been active in the Bahraini resistance campaign.  She has been banned from writing by the Bahraini government since the beginning of the democracy movement there.  

There was some discussion about the relative immaturity of democracy exhibited so far in the region and that people in America and elsewhere were worried about how long it was going to take for the situation to stabilize.  Lamees provided the metaphor that if a man is in a coma for 40 years, he does not wake and go for a run.  No.  It takes him a while to find his bearings, to re-learn how to feed himself, walk, etc.  But eventually he will run.  So it is with the middle east.  When people have languished under corrupt and totalitarian rule for so long, of course it is going to be a long time before the culture and intsitutions of democracy become realized.

I would take it further.  Americans who criticize the Arab Spring as creating instability are hypocrites and cowards.

Consider, in 1775 we started fighting our Revolution, two years later the States entered into an agreement under the Articles of Confederation.  We won the revolution in 1781 and we remained under the articles of confederation for 8 more years until 1789.  It was only then that we adopted the Constitution.

In other words, we operated under a system of government that was broadly understood not to be working for 12 years, and after that things still took a while to stabilize.  Our economy was in shambles.  Our money was worthless.  Did you know that States were leveraging tarrifs against each other.  States were violating the peace treaty with Great Britain, but the federal government could not do anything about it.  In the meantime, other nations rode roughshod over this toothless and inneffective American government.  Great Britain ignored various aspects of the treaty of Paris.  They kept warships in American waters for years!  Spain closed the Port of New Orleans to Americans in 1784 and the Americans could not do anything about it.  To top it all off, in 1787, Massachusetts farmers under the leadership of Daniel Shay revolted because they could not feed their families and their  homes were being foreclosed.  They captured the arsenal at Springfield and marched on the Massachusetts legislature.  Washington called it, “Liberty gone mad.”

Additionally, the instability that Americans generated in their own country was exported all over the world.  Over the next 20 years revolutions broke out in Haiti, Batavia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Ireland, Poland, and most famously, France.  In fact, “Atlantic Revolutions” is a blanket term for all the revolts that happened during the late 17th century.  Or you might call it the “Atlantic Spring.”

We were Egypt in the late 1770s and King George III was Mubarak!  Americans are at the apex of hypocrisy and selfishness when we refuse to support, diplomatically at least, the people rising up to challenge oppressive rulers because we are worried about paying a couple bucks more at the pump.  Additionally, we need to understand that we have supported, in many cases, these totalitarian oppressors ourselves.  I love America, which is why reading the history of our relationship to the Middle East for the past 80 years is depressing.

Finally, revolutions are what I thought conservatives wanted.  Wasn’t this what the second Iraq war was ostensibly about: encouraging democracy around the world.  Was there not instability and confusion in Iraq?  In general, the negative reaction of conservative talking heads to the Arab Spring confuses me.  Maybe these revolutions are tainted by the fact that Obama is in office?  I’m not sure.

Realistically, we should expect the Arab revolutions to make the region messy and unstable for some time.  Nonetheless, we must support them any way we can for however long they need it.  No matter how I look at it, it seems to be, quite clearly, our ethical obligation.

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About Jer Clifton

Look up, friend. The world is too beautiful for my eyes alone. View all posts by Jer Clifton

14 responses to “Support the Arab Spring!

  • Shannon

    The thing that interests me most about this post (primarily due to the fact that I did not read past the first paragraph) is that you have a scooter. You have a scooter?!?! Now, I realize that you and I have different opinions about what the purpose of your blog should be, but for a blog that began largely due to an issue related to transportation, I think that the fact that you own a scooter is relevant and worthy. 🙂 The end.

    • Shannon

      (And that’s not to say that I won’t read past the first paragraph, it’s just that I felt the need to comment on the scooter thing immediately. And currently I have to go put together a car track for a 3-year-old, so the rest of the post will have to wait.)

      • Jer

        I did not tell you that I have a scooter! How absurd of me. It is a lifelong Taiwan dream come true. I’m glad it made you happy. I’ll post a picture sometime.

  • Ben

    Jer,
    I would have loved to attend the forum. It sounds fascinating!

    I think the main concern I have with the Arab Spring is something that you did not explicitly mention in your post. The Arab Spring has been hailed as a movement in which democracy is rising up and spreading through the Middle East. If this is the case, I whole-heartedly agree with you that conservatives, and all Americans in fact, ought to be fully supportive of this movement. The main concern I have, and one that I have encountered in Conservative circles (capital C conservative . . . just so that I can exclude people after the fact in case my argument starts to fall apart ;-)) is a deep concern that this is not a movement of democracy. Instead, this is a movement of the more extreme Islamists overthrowing the secularists in favor of a stronger Islamic government. I am not yet convinced that the system that they want to put in place is democratic at all. I get the impression, instead, that they are seeking to become more Islamic in the way that Iran is more Islamic. This is especially what I hear about Egypt as we can already look and see what type of rulers are rising up. I believe I have heard similar things about Libya, but I wouldn’t swear by it. Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, etc. are way too early to tell.

    Ben

    • Jer

      Ben, I appreciate this point, and you way of making it (capital C comment made me laugh). It makes sense to me that liberal democracy and religious fanaticism would combine forces to knock off dictators and corrupt govt. But I don’t know which side will replace it, and which side is more defining of the Arab Spring, but from what I understand it is a substantial mix with perhaps more people who are pro liberal democracy. The muslim brotherhood, for instance, is understood to have done so well in the egyptian elections in large part because they already had the organization in place to get out the vote. While these newer more liberalized groups do not have the organization in place yet.

      However, I would also point out that religious fundamentalism is not diminished by supporting dictators who oppress them. If they come to dominate a democracy, then so be it. The price of freedom often means people we don’t like are in charge. However, if they come to install a religious dictatorsip or oligarchy, it will be worse than before. However, I think it is a moral imperative to give them a chance and to be in solidarity with them.

  • Luke Foley

    Jeremy,

    Sounds like an interesting forum. The Arab Spring will be considered a very poignant point in the history of the Middle East for decades to come. You’re point about states, such as Egypt, Libya and, most probably, Syria, that are in the throws of revolutionary change needing time to develop stable and effective governance is valid. However, I think your comparison between King George III is Mubarak is loose and unfounded.

    Ben’s concern about the legitimacy of democratic systems due to their Islamic strand throughout them is unfounded. If we’re defining a democratic system as fair and frequent elections governed by the rule of law, then they have the potential to develop into them. In developing an Islamic trend throughout them they are Conservative Democracies, rather than Liberal Democracies. Therefore the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has provided education and health care to the Egyptian people during Mubarak’s reign, is not an ill omen for democracy.

    Finally, I agree with you that the United States should support the elected governments in the Middle East, as well as, Asia, Africa and Latin America even if they do not benefit the American economy or sphere of influence.

    • Jer

      Luke, thanks for commenting. I think my analogy of King George III as Mubarak is loose as well, but not unfounded. Both were seen as iconic images of injustice to the people that wanted to overthrow his rule. But, it’s an insignificant analogy, as well as a poor one.

      By the way, your sister is over here somewhere, but I haven’t seen her yet.

  • Anonymous

    hey, it’s whit.
    I’d like you to spend a little less time badgering your bloody limey readership, and a little more time unpacking your idea of “support,” “exclamation mark.” You’d have to be at the minimum a reasonably proportioned dick not to like the Arab Spring on Facebook; but as a national feign policy pickle I am staunchly Hayekian on the topic; it’s incalculably complicated- so don’t meddle. For every Arab chap who’d like to see us Yankees more involved there’s another who thinks that that would be the worst thing ever. And so long as we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t I’d rather save money and get back to talking about Jeremy Lin. I think perhaps the only action-item on the docket is then curving Israeli Douchebagmanship. After that let the chips fall where they may. Realistically all we ever do (so long as they’re not Godless-whore-mongering-Commies) is support who ever has the most power. If Arab proletarians can wrestle away the power from their various governments we’ll assuredly be right there behind them with a blank check ready to exchange it for Israel being bordered off in their text-books and oil price stability. The latter a bit more then the former.

    And in regards to the latter part of your second to last paragraph, yes, if McCain was in office you best believe Fox News would be crowning the Arab Spring as the Bush Doctrine’s magnum opus, instead of their turgid and vacillating reproofs.

  • Jer

    Leave it to the marine to construe “support” as military action. : )

    There are many different types of support. For instance, I think Obama has been right to decide how to suppot on a country by country basis (as you say, its a complex business). I think he was likely right in Libya to stop Quadahffi from using his own airforce to wipe out the rebellion. But in other places, I think it was right to do nothing. It is very important for revolutions to be won by the people that are doing the revolting. We cannot give much support lest we destroy the revolutions we are trying to protect.

    However, we can avoid, for instance, selling arms to the Bahranian govt. which, from my meager understanding, they are using to suppress their own people. That would be support.

    Finally, let me take this opportunity to instruct you in how you should live : ) For being a fan of democracy, you are the worst advocate of it (I remember comments you made on my voting test post). You mock supporting the Arab Spring on facebook, but you don’t realize that being for the arab spring, in that seemingly paltry possession and expression of opinion, you exert enormous power in a democratic state. what you believe matters. What you can convince your neighbors to beleive matters.

    Enough people who agree really can change the world. It has and it will again. Your pessimism is simply unrealistic.

    • Anonymous

      First I’d like to say I once again enjoyed your post, as well as the lovely and stimulating comments it provoked. Secondly reading anything you write feels like extracting a pubic hair from my mouth after a bite into a filet-O-fish.
      Now that we’ve gotten the pleasantries out of the way I’d like to give you the opportunity to sue for peace. There is much we agree on, my dear friend; it doesn’t have to end this way – if you would simply agree to change the subject of your post from: “SUPPORT THE ARAB SPRING!!!!” to “Congratulations to us; the U.S. has and continues to behave uncharacteristically prudent in this seminal moment in Arab history –everyone keep doing and thinking exactly what you’ve already been doing and thinking,” then I’m willing to call it a day and won’t Taekwondo the crap out of your poorly lettered scribblings.
      More overt military intervention never crossed my mind old friend. That’s such an insipid idea I assumed that it was below any thinking man’s (even yours) radar. Of course I endorse support if that means our currant thoughtful and nuance measures. But I am not okay with ‘support’ if that means anything other then not taking France’s lead in this matter. (Sorry Luke; our special relationship across the pound has proven to be oh so very very special indeed.) I challenged you to scope out your idea of ‘Support’ because I got the impression from reading your post that you thought we should be doing more; more then what we already are. Which would be stupid. Hence you should change the title.

      As for Bahrain- U.S. middle eastern policy is cynical, sure, but above all pragmatic. What? would you rather them get their weapons from somebody else? Russia or China perhaps? That works out well doesn’t it? Yes, we use them, and they use us, and this is simply the way the world frucking works, and acting like we should denounce them out of principle is adolescent. We are not the only show in town and by being “friends” it allows us to at least have a seat at the table when crisis of morality spill out. (this whole argument would have so much more girth if America hadn’t been so spastic in prosecuting the War on Terror which gave regimes like Bahrain’s a sense of safety and immunity that may have otherwise not been so guaranteed. But I will not extrapolate on this idea because that would be acknowledging weaknesses in argument, and my arguments have no weakness. My arguments have pure, uncanny, and accurate karate talent; so consider yourself jujitsu chopped in your brain’s nuts.)

      Peace,
      Whit.

  • Alicia Clifton

    Eric, you’re wrong… as usual 😉
    You totally misconstrued what Jeremy was saying. He shouldn’t have given into you so easily! Jeremy was not telling the U.S. government that it should give more “support” to the Arab Spring. He was talking to the American people, to a certain right-leaning news station, etc., saying that people’s responses of negativity toward the Arab Spring are a bit hypocritical… “we want you to freely elect your leaders but only if we like the ones you elect” that sort of thing. So all this about whether the policy of the U.S. government is right or not is off topic. Jeremy got caught up in your web of reality-distorting stream of consciousness word vomit and conceded your mistreatment of his original point. You weak-minded men will be the world’s downfall.

    • whit

      Good Lord, can it really be that time of month again? As a housewife don’t you feel compelled to go iron something, instead of your incessant need to skip stones off the deep-end of man genius? Honestly, I am beginning to suspect that you are without any good taste, geometry, philosophy or shame altogether. Look, I too was taken aback by Jer’s brevity and tastefully temperate capitulation. However, my bro senses kicked in, and suddenly, I sat back and was aghast: “its a bloomin’ fucking trap!” (another tell was the obscene over use of the words “un-and-well-founded” scattered menacingly through out all this Arab Spring discussion. But back to the point – ) It’s a bloomin’ motherfucking trap!!
      But you, my dear, thankfully have now sprung that snare for me. I was intending to never ever write a reply ever again for fear of bodily and spiritual harm to my Edwardesk jaw-line and contrite soul. So well done; I suspect you’ll be eaten to death by alligators shortly, if you haven’t already. I suggest that with your remaining time you lean back, take a tall shot of Jameson, kiss your sweet platonic ass goodbye, (I suspect I don’t know what the word platonic really means, or how it’s suppose to be used. But I do feel obliged to hedge my bets when talking about a friend’s wife’s ass; be it sugary or otherwise.) and repent of your Molestiousness. (a bit of ol’ word mrunchtruating there for ya 🙂 Just look at yourself; sitting there on your gender appropriate high pony, word ravishing me like an ancient Mongolian version of Newt Gingrich – when all I was merely doing was pointing out that your hubby is a frivolous! punctuator. (which is the worst form of moral bankruptcy next to being a Newt Gingrich.)
      However, if it makes you feel any better, I have friend requested the Arab Spring, because, as you and your hub-wub pointed out; my opinions matters. Hopefully it will except me and be my third friend on FB along with Scarlett johansson (she’s oh so sound in both philosophy and geometry) and Rebecca Black. I feel more entitled to my smugness already; like a composter.

      Platonically yours for the taking
      -eric

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