April 24, 2014

Egypt and Global Freedom

By: Siddharth Joshi

[Edit: After a struggle much longer than Tunisia's, the Egyptian people were finally rewarded as Hosni Mubarak stepped down, leaving the Army in charge until democratic elections can take place. The place to be on the 11th of February was definitely Tahrir Square, so fittingly named. Tahrir translates to 'Liberation' and I think this so beautifully captures the essence of what transpired on that day. The future is still uncertain, and by no means is the Egyptian revolution successfully complete, but it has taken a step that was unimaginable a year ago. Even though Tahrir Square is in Cairo, this feeling of liberation has spread far beyond the borders of Tunisia and Egypt. I had previously mentioned Jordan and Yemen, but the biggest protests of the day were seen in Tehran and Bahrain. Apparently, the internet has been shut down in Algeria, but we have learned from Egypt that it is no simple task to stop this call for freedom and liberty.]

Whether we are concerned with suffering born of poverty, with denial of freedom, with armed conflict, or with a reckless attitude to the natural environment everywhere, we should not view these events in isolation. Eventually their repercussions are felt by all of us. We, therefore, need effective international action to address these global issues from the perspective of the oneness of humanity, and from a profound understanding of the deeply interconnected nature of today’s world.

- His Holiness the Dalai Lama

It has been well known for some time now that world we live in is shrinking, I am sure that each and every one of us has experienced the effect of the unstoppable force of globalization. The IGS major, unique to Brandeis, is an acknowledgment of this force; we describe it as “an interdisciplinary program that provides students with an opportunity to understand the complex processes of globalization that have so profoundly affected politics, economics, culture, society, the environment, and many other facets of our lives.”

It is no longer important but simply necessary to take into account the changes that our world has undergone, and understand that we face the future together. It is important that our generation grows up as global citizens and deals with the many issues that will need to be contended with. We can act, in our own capacities, but at the same time we must take advantage of the opportunity of being at a place of learning as prestigious and full of potential knowledge as Brandeis is. It is important to fully understand this process before we leave for the real world to find our way and to the best of our ability, improve the world we enter.

This blog is an attempt to help comprehend globalization through reflection, conversation and insight from people who are closer to situations around the world, providing us with, hopefully, an array of perspectives with which to better understand events that will shape our future.

The events in the Middle East right now are certainly events that will have a bearing on the world that we will graduate in to. What is happening is amazing, after 25 years the toppling of Zine el Abidine ben Ali in Tunisia and the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year rule over Egypt is one for the fairy tales, with the people rising up and uniting to speak for their rights. Further quoting the Dalai Lama, “Today, the values of democracy, open society, respect for human rights, and equality are becoming recognized all over the world as universal values.” We see people standing up to long-standing authoritarian rules, demanding better living situations, more responsive governments.
People I have spoken closer to the region have described it better than me. Sara Enan ‘11, a resident of Egypt, listed a few major wants of the protesters, “The people want to be heard, they want transparency and most importantly free and fair elections with our own choice of President.”

Elijah Plymesser ‘11, who spent a good part of his junior year in Egypt says that the people, “Want an end to political oppression, religious oppression, and lack of economic opportunity, they want better wages, better food security, and more jobs. What they want most though is the departure of Mubarak and everyone associated with him, by means of free and fair elections.” It is clear that the time of authoritarian governments is ending, and the call for democracy is spreading, from Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and nobody knows where it will stop.

Although imperfect, democracy seems to be the way forward towards greater freedom. Believers in democracy as an engine of progress often make the point that a climate of freedom is most needed in a knowledge-based economy, where independent thinking and innovation are vital.

It is surely no accident that every economy in the top 25 of the Global Innovation Index is a democracy, except semi-democratic Singapore and Hong Kong. Transparency International, a corruption watchdog, says that all but two of the 30 least corrupt countries in the world are democracies (the exceptions are Singapore and Hong Kong again). The democratic peace theory is one which says there  has never been a war between two democratic countries. This is not to say that democracies are necessarily successful, the definition of a democracy in the democratic peace theory is very strict and it is easy to find corrupt democracies—Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are seriously impeded by corruption, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, countries in Africa are all inhabited by their fair share of corrupt officials and bureaucrats. Democratic processes are slow and inefficient, as a resident of the world’s largest democracy, I can tell you that this is very true. However, it is the price I pay for the freedom that I live in.

Without the increased interconnectedness, such a revolution would not have been possible. Khalil Azouz, a Brandeis Masters student and resident of Tunisia said, “A lot of the mobilization was carried out via Facebook and Twitter. The crowds included lawyers, students, teachers, the unemployed”. Our technological advancement has allowed improved collaboration, possibly finally demanding accountability from long tenured rulers.

As they step down, the future of leadership of these countries is in question, the prevalence of democracy will require determination and patience. We must remember Britain took centuries to progress from tyrant kings such as Henry VIII to representative parliamentary government. Americans killed each other in a civil war which left more of them dead than any other conflict. The UK and the US have yet to reach a state of democratic perfection.

Understanding and respect is required in dealing with such a situation. Support must be provided but intervention must be limited. The evolution of a democratic system should be inclusive, and come from within these countries. Only then will the parliament reflect the wants and needs of their electorate. Economic development including growth must be promoted without placing too many restrictions on these nations in their democratic infancy.

An example from Afghanistan shows the danger of imposing what we think is best on very different countries. In Kabul a 26-year-old handyman called Jamshed speaks for many compatriots when he lists the pros and cons of the new Western-imposed order. Compared with life under the Taliban, he appreciates the new “freedom to listen to music, to go out with your wife, to study or do whatever you want.” But he cannot help remembering that “under the Taliban, you could leave your shop to pray and nobody would steal anything…now the government is corrupt, they take all your money.”

Nobody knows right now what is going to happen in these countries, but these events are truly a test of our beliefs on freedom and democracy. What is going to happen in Egypt and Tunisia? Will democracy prevail in the Middle East? Is this ‘good’, or ‘bad’? How is the West going to react/interact with the region? Can democracy hold up? There are many questions that these revolutions have raised, and I would like help in trying to answer them. In the end, the most important impression that these events have made on me is one of inspiration, that even in a world that seems very messy, freedom and truth can reign supreme and take this planet by storm.

In all honesty, this is the first time I have seen solidarity amongst my people. The first time we had equality, with a poor women holding hands with the upper-class and chanting for the same cause. First time I’ve seen us being organized, everyone is protecting their own homes and taking care of each other and that was self-directed. I have never been as proud to be an Egyptian and I wake up smiling every morning because I know we are making a change.

- Sara Enan ‘11

 

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