This morning I returned from Egypt-the new Egypt. The Egypt of hope, pride, and the Egypt in which the future will be written by Egyptians. The Egyptian people face a long, hard road ahead; the real battle will be remembering the spirit of their revolution and maintaining the renewed sense of mutual respect, community, and purpose that is now on display throughout the country.
I don’t want to romanticize what has happened in Egypt over the past month- it would be a shame to let the Egyptian people’s achievements be blurred by a patronizing outsider rendition of something I played no part in. But despite the fact that I was not in Egypt during the revolution and am not Egyptian, the people’s peaceful efforts to topple a dictator against all odds have profoundly moved me.
Along with the political revolution has come a cultural and social transformation- Egyptians are taking responsibility for their country and for one another. The former state of Egyptian society- a simmering pot of resentment, hatred and desperation- tells us a lot about the consequences of a Middle East policy built upon a very narrow conceptualization of stability as well as the perils of choosing that stability at any cost.
When you take away a man’s voice, ability to provide for his family, and most importantly his dignity, there will always be consequences. Can we really continue to justify a life without freedom and dignity for people in the Middle East while we send our young men and women abroad to die in order to protect our own?
I can’t help but wonder what is so scary about people exercising their right to self-determination. For the better part of the last century foreign powers have done the choosing in the Middle East with grave consequences. Does the free Egypt shut down one of its greatest sources of income, the Suez Canal? Of course not. Does the free Egypt stop providing gas to Israel? Probably not, but is may demand market price! Does the free Egypt wage war on Israel? Not if it knows what is best for it. Not every country in the Middle East has to turn out like Iran, and we can’t forget that our insistence to pick for Iranians is how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place.
Frankly, the status quo in the Middle East has never worked. Our perpetuation of the status quo has only further challenged our interests and handicapped our ability to address the challenges of Israel-Palestine, the exportation of terrorism and the dangerously simmering resentment of the West that grows daily. If the status quo in the Middle East is the safe option, why do we have soaring oil prices, full body scans in airports and hundreds of thousands of American military personnel scattered across the region?
I hope the popular uprisings currently unraveling the geopolitical narrative of the Middle East create opportunities for Americans to appreciate that we do have something in common with the people of the Middle East. Citizens of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Yemen and Iran are taking their lives into their own hands to demand the rights that Americans hold dearest in their hearts- the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.