There’s something happening here

Today, as election results in Lebanon confirmed the victory of the anti-Syrian coalition, Condoleezza Rice, at the American University of Cairo, reminded the her audience that America stands for something, and that, as a consequence, must stand with those who struggle toward freedom.

. . .the principles enshrined in our Constitution enable citizens of conviction to move America closer every day to the ideal of democracy. Here in the Middle East, that same long hopeful process of democratic change is now beginning to unfold. Millions of people are demanding freedom for themselves and democracy for their countries.

To these courageous men and women, I say today: All free nations will stand with you as you secure the blessings of your own liberty. […]

The Egyptian Government must fulfill the promise it has made to its people — and to the entire world — by giving its citizens the freedom to choose. Egypt’s elections, including the Parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election.

Opposition groups must be free to assemble, and to participate, and to speak to the media. Voting should occur without violence or intimidation. And international election monitors and observers must have unrestricted access to do their jobs.

Those who would participate in elections, both supporters and opponents of the government, also have responsibilities. They must accept the rule of law, they must reject violence, they must respect the standards of free elections, and they must peacefully accept the results.

Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy. There are those who say that democracy is being imposed. In fact, the opposite is true: Democracy is never imposed. It is tyranny that must be imposed.

And something is happening in Egypt.  Fear of the ruling dinosaurs has eroded.  Reform is in the air.  Blogger Baheyya comments on the role of young people, wielding the latest technology, in energizing the reform movement:

New protest venues, new political language, new public actors, age-old struggles. Egyptians’ pent-up political energies are filling the public square, propelled by ill-understood young people falsely alleged to be uninterested in public affairs. The hoary activists are still there, full of commitment and experience, but the young people are making their debut: sending out the e-mails and text messages, manning the demonstrations, suffering the truncheon blows, plotting the next steps, and writing the narratives that will help us revisit these inebriating times.

Baheyya links to an article in Middle East Online titled “Reformist Groups Mushroom in Egypt.”

. . . politicians headed by Aziz Sedki, a former prime minister under president Gamal Abdel Nasser, announced the birth of a National Rally for Democratic Change, with the self-appointed task of drawing up a constitution to end what they called despotism and autocracy.

“We want to create a forum grouping all political forces to achieve reforms, because the bitter crisis Egypt is undergoing threatens catastrophy,” Sedki told a news conference.

Another rally founder, former minister Yehya al-Gamal, added: “We want to promote democracy and change.”

The same day, journalists meeting at their union headquarters formed their own body, Journalists For Change, to “lift the grip of the state and of its security services from public journals.”

Most moving of all, Big Pharaoh, ultimate skeptic in matters touching political reform, allows himself a moment of hope after chatting with two shopkeepers in Alexandria.  Big Pharaoh engaged them in a long conversation about politics, and eventually became aware that the most important part of the discussion were the subjects nobody raised:

We discussed a lot of topics. The coming elections, the Islamists, the internal and external pressure on the Egypt’s regime. I noticed something very interesting when our conversation ended after an hour and a half and I finally left the store. The almighty issue of Palestine and the perceived “horribleness” of the USA never got into our discussion. We didn’t discuss Palestine and Israel. We didn’t discuss the US. We talked about Egypt and only Egypt. This was so weird because any political discussion in Egypt will have to include Palestine and a number of cuss words directed towards the US. […]

My prayer, my dream, and my hope is to find an organized and well financed political force composed of people as balanced and as open minded as those 2 poor shopkeepers. Only then will I accept a free ballot box with a wide embrace.

If democracy comes to Egypt, it will be the work of the Egyptians.  That point has been made by Secretary Rice and by Baheyya – who is fiercely anti-U.S. – alike.  And as Baheyya observes, it will be the work of decades, not months.  Six thousand years of despotism won’t be overcome in a burst of youthful enthusiasm.

I remember one of the few politicians I have known telling me, years ago, “As you get older, you don’t try to solve the great social and political problems – you hope to budge them in the right direction, to leave the situation better than you found it.”

She was talking about the racial divide in our country.  But the same modest principle applies to our freedom policy in the Middle East, now being implemented by a secretary of state who is a descendant of slaves.

The problem isn’t ours to solve, but we can stand with the reformers and the democrats against the tyrants, even when the tyrants pose as friends.  And maybe the wait will be shorter than Baheyya imagines:  any student of history knows that human affairs can suddenly sweep in one direction, pushing aside obstacles like the flood-tide.

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