Friday, February 11, 2011

Ferment and Freedom

When online news Op-Eds are already obsolete, you have to wonder if it pays to post anything about the fall of Mubarek at all. This story twists and turns every few hours at this point.

My guess is that Egypt will not end up completely transformed, but there will be incrementally more freedom and democracy than there is now. There will probably be some muddled representative parliamentary system put in place, and the people will enjoy more basic rights.

I think worst and best case scenarios are very unlikely. The worst case scenario is the rise of an Islamic Theocracy. It seems that the Moslem Brotherhood doesn't have the popularity or charismatic leadership to pull this off. And they would have to get past the very Westernized Egyptian Army. They will probably end up with representation in a future parliament, where it is unlikely that they could make the same problems that Hizbollah does in their parliament. Egypt isn't Lebanon.

But why not a best case scenario? I really don't think they want a Western style Liberal Democracy. Freedom and Democracy are not the same things, and I don't believe you can have the latter without the former. Democracy is (at least) government chosen by the people, and without freedoms of speech, press, assembly and press, options for choice of leadership can't realistically come to be.

I performed a little experiment with my students this week. I asked them if a Neo-Nazi group filed proper permits for a parade in Cleveland to celebrate Hitler's birthday, should we allow it? They will hand out flyers, give speeches and sing songs praising the greatness of the Third Reich. My unscientific mini-survey came out 100% in favor of allowing it. (I was impressed that a few of them even knew about and brought up the case in Skokie from the 70s)

Look at that I told them. You have been so educated and indoctrinated to accept the Bill of Rights as fundamentally important to American life, that you Orthodox Jewish day school kids all handed parade permits to Nazis.

If I went to Tahrir Square right now and presented a similar survey, what would happen? Let's say I asked for a group of Jews to have a Salute to Israel Parade every Yom Ha'Atzmaut, handing out leaflets explaining the story of the Jewish State. I wonder how many would support it, even begrudgingly. My guess is very few.

I told my students not to take for granted that they live in a country that was lead by Thomas Jefferson. All people being endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights is the religion of America. (or at least as close as we get to one) The Egyptian people want and deserve those freedoms. But I doubt they will be ready to carve out a Bill of Rights that compares to Americas.

Incremental steps forward in Freedom and Democracy are still steps forward. Short term, who knows what comes next? But the surest route to stability is through handing power to the people. They will not want another war with Israel, nor will the Egyptian army. Have you noticed that Democracies don't fight wars with each other?

Even these small steps could lead to a better future for the Arab world. And any real freedom and democracy in the Arab world is better for Israel and the West. And some point, this is where things are going.


Michelle said...

Very true. I was in Missouri a few years ago when the Neo-Nazis came in to protest. the whole town was angry and put up signs against them everywhere but they let the nazis march bc it was their constitutional right. Egyptians are def. not at that stage yet but insha'allah, they will be.

MNUnterberg said...

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