I’m going to start out up front by saying I’m not an expert in political theory in any way shape or form. Having said that, I’ve travelled all over the world and seen and experienced many different cultures. I’ve watched and read the news from multiple sources on a daily basis and it seems to me entirely possible that what’s happening in Egypt today, Tunisia just recently, and perhaps some other Arab states in the near future, is the birth of real, genuine democracy for these countries.
As a complete amateur, I think the pattern goes like this:
- Self-rule of some kind, probably through a royal family
- European power comes along and colonizes
- When the pressure gets too great 150 years later, colonial power pulls out
- Leaving what they say is a democratically elected government in place
- Which is quickly suborned into a despotic regime in which the powerful few make millions and everybody else suffers in poverty.
- This situation usually lasts for about 30 years after which
- People rise against the despot and demand changes
- The despot fights back, kills a few, imprisons a lot.
- People retreat to lick their wounds but
- Rise again with greater determination.
- Despot finds he has no alternative but to give in
- People travel rocky road to genuine democratic elections and stability returns
For the last almost ten years, various countries and armies have tried to sticky-tape democracy to countries like Iraq (see above pattern for where Saddam slotted in), with limited success. While we in the west firmly believe that democracy is the best thing since sliced bread, that doesn’t mean everybody else is ready to put down their porridge.
The sad fact is, democracy cannot be granted by somebody else. The only democracy that means anything is one that is demanded, desperately needed, and something for which at least a few people have died.
Until a people stand on rooftops for days on end and scream for their freedom, they will never value what democracy will bring them. If they don’t value it, they won’t protect it from the next despot that comes along.
I’ve travelled all through Egypt and found the people to be wonderful, generous and kind (well, except for that guy who wanted to give my father 100 camels for me) and nothing at all like the dreadful stereotype we’re handed these days of the crazy Arab/Muslim. They’re just people. They’re mostly poor with a very small chance of ever making anything of their lives. They’ve been kept that way because of President Mubarak and they want him out.
What’s happening in Egypt today is frightening – but it’s also necessary. This is the point where a country grows up and becomes an adult. I wish them luck – not just today and in the coming weeks, but over the next few years as these ordinary people learn what being free really means.