Sunday, February 20, 2011

Well done, Egypt!

Top: Egyptian protesters, many days before their victory. Copied from Feb. 1 post of Jordanian blogger Roba, original source Reuters. For other beautiful photos of the protests see Roba's Feb. 6 post.
Bottom: One of the fallen Egyptian freedom fighters - 23-yr-old Sally Zahran. Copied from, original source unnknown.

When East-European countries, including my Bulgaria, suddenly freed themselves of communism in the "Autumn of the Nations" of 1989, I enthusiastically thought that my adult life would coincide with a global reign of freedom.
Some years later, I started to think exactly the opposite - that 1989 was not a dawn but a rare spark in a realm of darkness, and I would not live long enough to witness another similar spark.
But it is here and now - the so-called "the Arab Spring" is sweeping the North Africa and the Middle East, and it seems that nothing there will ever be the same again.
All began in Tunisia by a hitherto unknown man, 26-yr-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi. For many years, he had been harassed, humiliated and blackmailed by arrogant and corrupted police and municipality officers during his overwhelming work to feed his family. When they confiscated his goods and beat him in December last year, this was the straw that broke his back, and he publicly set himself on fire. And then, the whole country caught the fire. Protests escalated, until the dictator Ben-Ali was forced to resign and flee to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.
This was an awakening for other Arab nations who suddenly realized that their dictators were not invincible. In one country after another, protesters filled the squares. The events are still ongoing and the balance of forces uncertain, with one honorary exception - Egypt, where the protests beginning on Jan. 25 on the Tahrir ("Liberation") square in Cairo and in other cities forced the dictator Hosni Mubarak to resign on Feb. 11.
I wish I could welcome the Egyptian Revolution with my whole heart but, to be honest, I must admit that my feelings are mixed. I admire the courage of the protesters and their love for freedom, and I wish them and their whole nation all the best. However, I am afraid that events may take an unfortunate turn - and I am not alone. Because the main opposition force in Egypt is the infamous Muslim Brotherhood, many Western commenters see the shadow of the 1979 Iranian revolution - which also began with striving for freedom, and ended with establishment of a grotesque theocracy and slaughter of freedom-loving people. Tunisia is a tiny country, so nobody seems too bothered by the rumours that a motley crew of Islamists and Communists is heading for the elections there. However, Egypt is an important state, a regional power; and while the threats/promises of the Muslim Brotherhood to make a war with Israel may well be empty words, nobody is willing to bet on it.
Of course, I feel uneasy with this opinion, as a supporter of a wrong cause. Any statements that a nation is not yet ready for democracy and could not apply it correctly smell of racism and are usually voiced by enemies of mankind and civilization. Which, unfortunately, does not always guarantee that they are untrue... My opponents may ask, and will be right - how could a nation under a dictator teach itself to master democracy? How can you ban a person to immerse his foot in water, and then claim this is for his own good because he cannot swim? As the Benghazi Citizen (I hope he is OK) said, "No nation throughout history was ready for democracy, because those who ruled made sure that their people (or their subjects) are never ready."
In the particular case of Hosni Mubarak, he presented himself as a friend of Israel and the USA (enjoying a nice $1.5 billions of aid per year; as someone commented in the Ha'aretz forum, "real friends don't need to be bribed"). At the same time, he used his goverment-controlled media to enhance the antisemitic and anti-American feelings of Egyptians. Sandmonkey, who himself took part in the Egyptian revolution, wrote on Feb. 3: "A veiled girl with a blurred face went on Mehwer TV claiming to have received funding by Americans to go to the US and took courses on how to bring down the Egyptian government through protests which were taught by Jews... State TV started issuing statements on how the people arrested Israelis all over Cairo engaged in creating mayhem and causing chaos." So, whatever happens, I am not going to miss Mubarak. I cannot even call him what Paul Johnson called the former Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, "a loyal if disgusting ally of the West". Mubarak was disgusting but did not come anywhere near being a loyal ally. The best I can say of him is that he did not order a crackdown on his people and stepped down when the number of victims was "only" in the three-digit range (365 as currently reported by Wikipedia). However, I have all reasons to think that this was not Mubarak's merit; rather, the military sensed the direction of wind (as we say) and forced him to resign in time.
To continue the analogy with the swimming - normally, people are trained to swim under the supervision of skilled swimmers. When some country is stepping on the path to democracy, someone else must keep watch, give directions and be ready to intervene if things go terribly wrong. Outside Europe, this "someone" can be only the USA. What a pity that the Arab Spring had to happen exactly when the White House is occupied by a man able only to talk. As a person who makes her living almost entirely by talking, I know very well the limitations of what you can achieve this way.
But let's leave all these worries for another day. When a tyrant is oustered, it is time to celebrate. Well done, Egypt, congratulations! I remember a poem, by an unknown author, written in the unruly days of late 1989:

"Не бой се, народе, в тебе е силата,
днес си изграждаш нова съдба.
Добри или лоши - Бог знае ги новите,
но старите трябва да паднат сега!"

Don't be afraid, people, you have the strength
To build your new destiny today.
God knows, good or bad the new rulers will be,
But the old ones must step down now!


hayeah said...

Can you answer a few interview questions?

Hi Maya,

I am a Canadian inspired by the courage of the
Arab people to fight for their future. I found
your blog, and feel that I want to hear more from

I am building a website for people to speak
against the dictators, and debate the future of
their country. In other words, for the people's
voices to be heard.

I'd be glad to tell you more about what we are
building, if you are interested to find out. But
to help us get started, it'd be great if you could
answer a few questions for us!

Hope to hear from you!!


Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

What are the people fighting for?

What are some moments that made you proud?

What are your hopes for the future?

How are you using technology, such as the Internet?

What do you want to say to the world?

How can we help?

Maya M said...

Howard, I wrote this post to support Arab freedom fighters, but I do not belong to them. I am Bulgarian and my country already enjoys democracy.
See my Blogroll, the "The War against the West" sections - possibly the hosts of some blogs listed there will help you.

hayeah said...

Yes Maya, I know you are Bulgarian (your profile says). We are interested to hear from people all over the world what they think about the Arab Uprisings, and your voice is very much welcome!

The interview questions are designed so that you can answer them from your perspective as a Bulgarian... But let me know if any of them feels awkward to answer, and I'll reword them : )

(you can contact me by e-mail at hayeah at gmail )

Kurt Joenson said...

I find it hard to gather any strength to bother about how they do in these far away countries.

I am a Dane. We have more serious stuff like early retirement "Efterloen" and the widespread use of private parking firms operating outside the law which prevent any quality of life for us.

I guess that even if they didn't succeed with their reforms they would be far better off than us Danes.

Maya M said...

Kurt, cheer up! The things you are writing about seem to me, as we say, "white worries" (i.e. minor).

Maya M said...

Let me try to answer your questions:
A bit about me - I am 40-yr-old biology teacher to medical students, married mother of two. I have spent all my life in Sofia, Bulgaria, and remember well the last phase of the communist regime and the emergence of democracy after 1989.
What are the Arab people fighting for - of course, they want to get rid of their dictators, and they want to be respected as citizens and to have their word heard. So far, I am sure enough. I am not sure what more they want, and I am not sure they themselves have much idea. The long dictatorships have prevented them from developing clear ideas and key skills for democratic popular government, something I remember also about post-1989 Eastern Europe. However, all Europeans have essentially Western culture and democratic traditions, so the road to democracy, however twisted it turned to be, was like coming home. I fear that, for MENA countries, the lack of democracy traditions and the non-Western culture may cause unpredictable hardships.

Maya M said...

I am continuing:
What may be proud - of course I cannot take pride in someone else's deeds, but the photos of Egyptian protesters cleaning the squares and guarding the museums, and the Christian and secular protesters guarding the praying Muslims made me be glad for belonging to the same humanity:
My hopes for the future are that: (1) nobody will declare war to Israel or send terrorists to it or to another country; (2) nowhere will Iran-like theocracy be established; (3) there will be no crackdown on minorities or dissidents; and (4) after the initial turmoil no Mubarak-like strongman will seize power and return his country back to square one.
Of course, the wish that things do not change for much worse is a fear rather than a hope, but experience teaches people to have "hopes" of this sort.
How the protesters are using technology - I am sure it has helped them much, and probably has spawned the events. We have passed a long way since the 1980s when we were bringing the radio closer to the window to catch the short wave emissions of "forbidden" Western broadcasters!
What I would want to say to the world - I wish the Western powers to have policy based on long-term interests (which is the same as to base it on values) and stop the relativistic and myopic policy of supporting "friendly" dictators.
How the West can help - I think emerging democracies need a lot of know-how. I would advise creators and owners of valuable intellectual products to offer them at a discount price (or for free) to those nations that are anyway unable to pay the market price.
At the same time, however, I think the West should stand firmly on its values and even try to export them. We all remember how some of the same Arab nations put Europe on its knees during the 2006 cartoon crisis. This should not happen again. I think that if we firmly insist on freedom of speech and separation of religion from state, this will help not only us but also, in the long term, the emerging democracies.