By John Stang
The OWS movement has a similar ring to the Green Party or the Libertarian Movement, bringing democracy back to the people. This means letting communities decide and finding a way to ways to let people have legitimate control of the political system that is not hampered by corporate interests. Anne Applebaum comments about the problems with protesting democracy:
Of course these international protests do have a few things in common, both with one another and with the anti-globalization movement that preceded them. They are similar in their lack of focus, in their inchoate nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions. In New York, marchers chanted, “This is what democracy looks like,” but actually, this isn’t what democracy looks like. This is what freedom of speech looks like. Democracy looks a lot more boring. Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities, none of which are nearly as much fun as camping out in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral or chanting slogans on the Rue Saint-Martin in Paris.
Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions in the Western world. They are designed to reflect, at least crudely, the desire for political change within a given nation. But they cannot cope with the desire for global political change, nor can they control things that happen outside their borders. Although I still believe in globalization’s economic and spiritual benefits — along with open borders, freedom of movement and free trade — globalization has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.
Institutions, institutions, institutions – those are what the protesters want to reform. Getting inside the institution to change it hardly makes for easy change. Slow, painstaking procedures like the filibuster in the senate is an example of this problem in action that needs to be reformed, but by being a member of the senate, you will not be likely to change it. See what happened when they did try at the beginning of the year. Outside movements make more a direct impact than those who are on the inside. It relates the problem more to the people and vents frustrations in a more public manner. The OWS movement, I would argue is doing what Applebaum suggests, it recognizes that we do live in a democratic society, but the institutions are letting us down and not serving the people. Corporate finance for them is the link that is creating that disconnect, you can argue others cause it to, but corporate greed and malice is the most obvious.
Is democracy messy? Yes Will it ever be perfect? hardly so. Can major improvement be made to make it stronger? Absolutely!
In response to the violent clashes between the Syrian government and the protesters, the White House has called for reforms to be implemented in Syria. Reuters says:
“The Syrian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” Jay Carney, spokesman for U.S. President Barack Obama, said in a statement. “Violence is not the answer to the grievances of the Syrian people.”
Washington Post foreign affairs columnist Anne Applebaum writes about how the U.S. wants stable regimes, but the best to get that is through what already supports: repressive ones. She writes:
Politicians like stability. Bankers like stability. But the “stability” we have so long embraced in the Arab world wasn’t really stability. It was repression. The benign dictators we have supported, or anyway tolerated—the Zine al-Abidine Ben Alis, the Hosni Mubaraks, the various kings and princes—have stayed in power by preventing economic development, clamping down on free speech, keeping tight control of education, and above all by stamping down hard on anything resembling civil society. Every year, more books are translated into Greek—a language spoken by 11 million people—than into Arabic, a language spoken by more than 220 million. Independent organizations of all kinds, from political parties and private businesses to women’s groups and academic societies have been watched, harassed, or banned altogether.
The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats. Please note that the Egyptian government ‘s decision to shut down the entire country’s Internet accessover the weekend—something it can do because Internet access is still so limited—had almost no impact on the demonstrators. For all the guff being spoken about Twitter and social media, the revolution in Cairo appears to be a very old-fashioned, almost 19th-century revolution: People see other people going out on the streets, and they join them.
We are surprised, and no wonder. For the last decade, successive U.S. administrations have sometimes paid lip service to democracy and freedom of speech in the Arab world. Some U.S. organizations, official and unofficial—the National Endowment for Democracy comes to mind—have supported independent human rights activists in Egypt and elsewhere. Some U.S. journalists, such as my Washington Post colleague Jackson Diehl, have cultivated Egyptian democrats, interviewed them, written about them. But to U.S. presidents and secretaries of state of both political parties, other issues—oil, Israel, and then the war on terror—always seemed more important. Our money subsidized the Egyptian army and police, and the Egyptians know it. In Cairo, police were firing ”Made in the USA” tear gas at protesters.
Think about it. Democracy allows people to choose leaders and the result may not be a particular leader that the U.S. loves, like when Hamas or Hezbollah win elections. Is it really stability we want, or leaders that are the U.S. yes men to foreign policy? A regime change in Egypt will be the real test of that theory.
All eyes are staring at Egypt as the world waits for a new power structure to take shape in a country that has not had true democracy for the last 20 years. My advice to most people, and from the wisdom of many sagacious foreign policy analysts, is to just hold out on the commentary until the dust settles. Unfortunately, the Twitter-based world demands an immediate reaction to every event at a seconds notice.
While I cannot comment on the ground situation in the land of the pyramids, a good response to U.S. action is in order. President Obama gave a statement yesterday in support of the protesters, as long as they protested peacefully, and wanted the regime to initiate talks for true democratic reform. Beyond what many imagine a presidential response to look like, this is the most typical. Furthermore, it gives the Obama administration some wiggle room to negotiate with whoever might be in power.
It is a smart response because if the protests fail and Mubarak stays in his comfy chair as Egypt’s current autocrat, the Obama administration will be in the same situation as the Iranian election crisis of 2009 where no reforms actually took place. On the other hand, if Mubarak is forced to pull a Shah of Iran maneuver and leave the country, Obama can tell the public that he does support the protest movement and still have the courtesy of saying that he warned Mubarak of the ails of not reforming Egypt’s democratic process.
Most people are not fluent in Egyptian politics to understand the power dynamics in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant opposition force in Egyptian politics, despite being banned from the current political scene. The main problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood voice has largely been absent from the protests and if Mubarak falls it is not clear who will take power. Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also returned to the country, but he does not have that much sway over the Egyptian people, since he has lived abroad for so long. He would be the west’s hope for true democracy, but his support in Egypt is questionable at best. The other determinant in this political storm will be how supportive and active the Egyptian military will be in carrying out the orders of Mubarak. So far the military has been sent out, but their results are mixed.
With these power structures in a constant flux, it is better that Obama stand back and see what happens. Overreaction could hurt the situation. Worrying about hypothetical questions on the state of Israel-Egypt relations and the rise of radical Islam in the country seem frivolous at this point when the question of who will take the reigns has not been decided yet. Soon enough, it will all be decided.