Let the people go, Pharaoh

What do protests in Iran, Tunisia and Egypt remind us of? The same things the revolutions in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania reminded us of twenty years ago:

Human beings want to be free. They want honest, accountable and un-self-centered leaders.

Patrick Henry put it this way, of course, when he spoke in favor of sending Virginian troops to the American Revolution: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Hardhearted autocrats have ruled Egypt before. Oppressed people have previously suffered under heavy-handed regimes of the Nile. But as in the days of Moses, a time comes when the prospect of freedom bubbles over the fear of recourse.

Such days are upon us in the Arab nation known for its ancient technological achievements.

It is fitting, then, that the rise of communication technology has contributed significantly to the calls for political and economic reform. Fifteen years ago there were no mobile phones in Egypt. Today, there are 60 million of them.

A decade ago, information was generally limited to state-run outlets. Now, independent daily papers, Internet bloggers and non-governmental satellite TV stations scrutinize government activity somewhat like a vigorous free press does in the West.

Moreover, like their counterparts in other Middle Eastern nations, Egyptian youth have tasted and seen through the Web and TV the quality of life that is possible when governments are made for people, not people for governments.

Still, there are plenty of stakeholders vested in the continuation of some form of the current Egyptian regime: the armed forces, regime intellectuals, bureaucracy, internal security services, and big business. Such an intertwined establishment has prompted corruption complaints among reformers.

Rules and regulations that keep power consolidated at the top have existed in Egypt since the 1952 Free Officers coup. It’s no wonder that Mubarak supporters have violently hit the streets this week after watching anti-Mubarak protesters go unchecked much of last.

What role should the U.S. play in the situation? We have tolerated corrupt and abusive behavior for decades in exchange for relative stability in the region. We have given billions in foreign aid to Egypt to solidify our ally status.

President Obama finds himself in the same pickle he was in during the Iran protests two years ago: with too much invested in the status quo to support our ideological counterparts, the pro-democratic reformers.

In addition, a hesitancy to endorse reform comes from a general liberal disbelief that democracy can take root in the Middle East. Liberals have long denigrated democracy-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They claim that the idea of democracy is fundamentally juxtaposed to the Arab mindset. They probably also claimed it was juxtaposed to the Communist bloc mindset.

Such a wooden perspective underestimates the flame of freedom in the hearts of common people. It fails to recognize the illegitimacy of the established, self-seeking regimes.

They may hold power, but they lack moral authority. Only moral authority will last; only it will ultimately prevail. We should support those who have it. We should support democratic reform.

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