Written by Joshua Patton,
Democracy spreads with not a bang but a roar. The news broke that Tunisia had a bona fide revolution; that the citizens toppled the government and experienced firsthand that blissful moment in democracy when the people feel as if they have won and whatever new government waits to replace the old has yet to disappoint them. Sparked by the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a local merchant that was robbed daily by municipal officers, this revolutionary spirit spread across Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Egypt captured the attention of the world more so than the Tunisia protests, possibly because Egypt’s Mubarak was an ally to the United States and the importance of the Suez Canal. Many think that Egypt’s revolution took longer than the Tunisian revolution, but in fact it was remarkably shorter and remarkably more important. Because of the access that the world media had to Egypt, the world audience was able to watch the protestors and Mubarak fight it out live on television every night. Images of men wearing makeshift helmets, media darling Anderson Cooper being attacked, and videos of police brutality – including shooting an unarmed protester – were put right in front of our faces.
Mubarak tried many different political moves to quell the protesters, but they would not rest until he relinquished power. Frankly, he was lucky. The people never called for his head, keeping their protest nonviolent. And Mubarak is no fool. Reticent to give up his position though he might have been, he was still stupidly rich, which also engenders a practicality in a person. The loss of power stinks, but at least he’s alive to spend all the cash he could get his grubby hands on. Yet, this is easy to say in hindsight. Throughout the revolt, it seemed as if at any moment a powder keg could erupt and blood run would like a river again in Egypt.
In the wake of Egypt’s success a host of other Middle Eastern and North African countries have erupted into protest, demanding democracy and freedom. Libya, ruled for 42 years by Moammar Gadhafi, is what this type of revolution looks like when it goes badly. Gadhafi has become something a loon in recent years given his rambling speeches and his female, sexy bodyguards that one almost forgets that he was involved in an act of terrorism. The situation in Libya has gotten so out-of-hand that President Obama is threatening to get involved. He hedged his bets with Egypt, but Gadhafi declared open war on civilians. And with the eye of the media firmly planted there, America is feeling the pressure to get involved.
Things are not so dire in other revolting countries. In Bahrain, the government is freeing political prisoners and the protestors are unified across religious lines. In Yemen, lawmakers have resigned saying they support the people, as pressure increases on their President Ali Abdullah to abdicate. An interesting move on the part of the lawmakers because it seems likely that in supporting the people, they are securing a place in the new power structure.
Many American pundits, politicians, and commentators worry about this type of democracy explosion because they fear what will fill the vacuum. These are sensitive areas and the thinking makes sense: dealing with a dictator that oppresses his people but is easy to appease is good leverage. If the dictator doesn’t want to play ball with us, we can roll in with the military and be greeted as liberators. If the people are happy and loyal to a democratically-elected leader with dreams of domination, the world then has a much larger problem on their hands. These fears are not unfounded. There has been a rise in crime in both Tunisia and Egypt. When people feel free, they do whatever they want to do. However, the hope remains that since these protests are driven by the youth, that given their broader experience of the world through media and the internet, there will be less despotic intentions and more desire for denim and Starbucks.
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