Monday, January 31, 2011

Reflections on Egypt

Amidst the hope and chaos in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez, one particularly interesting theme has begun to emerge from progressive religious circles here in the US: the on-going protests in Egypt represent the end of a false dichotomy in Middle Eastern politics that has defined US foreign policy for decades.

Phillip Weiss tackles this dichotomy head-on, suggesting that US foreign policy in the region, which has historically been defined by the toleration of corrupt, autocratic Arab regimes willing to forswear outward hostility toward Israel, has perpetuated a "false choice of secular dictator [or] crazy Islamists" as the only two viable models of government in the region. However, Weiss suggests that the apparent awakening of "true Arab democracy" in the streets of Egypt will evaporate this false dichotomy "by showing that Arabs are smart articulate people who can handle real democracy if they get to make it themselves."

Interfaith advocate Eboo Patel shared a similar sentiment in a passionate plea to President Obama urging the president to embrace the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. Patel cites the emergence of diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed ElBaradei as the nominal head of the protest movement as "a dream" for Western nations willing to shake off the status quo of regional politics. As Patel explains, with the nomination of ElBaradei as the face of the protests,
"Mubarak no longer gets to say, "Your choice is me or a bearded mullah who will repress women, religious minorities and everyone who doesn't pray five times a day exactly as he does - plus rip up the peace treaty with Israel.""
Patel apparently agrees with Weiss about the nature of the revolution in Egypt, referring to the protesters as "remarkably peaceful, sophisticated, and disciplined," and calls on President Obama to be on "the right side of history" and support the people of Egypt as they work to end the "tyranny" of Mubarak's regime.

With news of an enormous protest scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday), we continue to keep the people of Egypt, and all those who struggle for basic human rights and dignities, in our thoughts and prayers.

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