Saturday, February 05, 2011

Lessons from Egypt

I know I haven't blogged in a while, but I can't help but share my thoughts on Egypt. After Tunisia's example, the Egyptian people are fighting for their voices to be heard, showing the power of peaceful demonstrations.   Hopefully, in addition to Mubarak stepping down and there being a peaceful transition of power, the rest of the world will learn one or more of the following lessons.

1) Supporting "friendly dictators" is a recipe for unrest, anti- our democratic values,  and never in America's best interest. This is a tactic we've tried repeatedly, believing the alternatives worse.  But in actual democracies, even if leaders we don't like come to power, if they make poor decisions for their people, piss off the rest of the world, or cause hardship to their people, they can be voted out in the subsequent election.  Yes, the palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas, but largely because the alternative was rife with corruption, but then they were less content with Hamas when they saw just what their choice meant.  If America has a vested interest in the region, we have ways to put political and economic pressure on whatever government comes to power.  We don't need any particular ruler to make that happen.

2) Israel is not the #1 problem in the middle east.  For years, leaders in the Arab world have tried to focus the attention away from domestic problems and direct the anger of their people at an outside force. And many liberal NGOs, instead of focusing on the oppression of homosexuals, freedom of religion, womens' rights, freedom of speech, and other human rights issues in the many middle eastern countries, have disproportionately focused on the Palestinians, feeding this mirage that Israel is the real and only problem.   I'm not saying that there aren't issues between Israel and its neighbors, but by removing autocracies, it forces Arab governments to actually deal with domestic issues, such as corruption, poverty, and human rights.  Perhaps down the line they can actually look at making peace with Israel and make the actual compromises necessary without fear of losing their #1 punching bag.

3) Good, investigative journalism is imperative to transparent government and a free society.  
As we've see the past few days, Mubarak's thugs have not only targeted protesters with intimidation, firebombs, and shootings, but there has been a strong persecution of journalists in the region, to try to discourage the independent reporting that discredit official government propaganda of what's actually happening.  Rachel Maddow did a good job tying together just why journalists are being targeted (see the broadcast from 2/2).

This further emphasizes the importance of journalism to an open society, yet for the past few years in the the US, journalists are often so afraid of being seen as biased they don't actually investigate national news and politics.  Giving the full picture does not mean asking people on both sides to give official talking points, having a panel of "experts" give their opinions.  It means actually fact-checking what politicans say, whether their actions match their words, what is actually happening on the ground.  And if the report on a story implicates one person or party for doing bad things, not spending half the time asking them what they meant to do/say (do most news stories on Egypt now spend half the time quoting official Mubarak sources?).  Perhaps these indefensible attacks on journalists will reinvigorate reporters, to apply the investigative tactics learned abroad in our day to day news coverage.

As I continue to follow the revolution unfolding in Egypt, I am glad for the resolve of the Egyptian people and journalists covering the story, and hope that the world actually learn these lessons.

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