By Michael Collins
The legitimate demands of the people everywhere have no color, nor do their revolutions. These are not the revolutions arising from staged events by the White House, the National Endowment for Democracy, and other meddlers. We are witnessing what Mark Levine called human nationalism. The people of Tunisia, now Egypt, are, “taking control of their politics, economy and identity away from foreign interests and local elites alike in a manner that has not been seen in more than half a century.” (Image)
Somehow, we are supposed to believe that the English speaking peoples have a corner on democracy. The rest of the world is still learning. When the oppressed of a nation, particularly of the third world, stage an uprising, it is neatly packaged and color coded. That way it’s easier to follow. The Western leaders and press assume an avuncular pose and pass judgment on how the various colors pass along the path to self-determination — not too fast, not too rowdy, and certainly not too disruptive to first world markets, especially oil.
These assumptions need to be thrown overboard immediately.
When a people have had enough of mistreatment and government corruption, when they have struggled and starved long enough, when they see their children die shortly after birth and their elders pass well before their time, they’ve had enough. They can be white, brown, yellow or any combination of colors. They may be in an industrialized or developing nation or living in one with little development.
It is the universal right of all people to live in peace, freedom, and dignity.
This right knows no bounds of education, class, race, status, or religion.
Aspiration to the universal right has an enduring and compelling narrative throughout history.
When Philippine President [dictator] Ferdinand Marcos was seriously challenged in 1986, the people demanded and got a fair election. This did not sit well with the Marcos faction. Snipers shot at voters as they stood in line to cast their ballots. The demand for universal rights displayed by those citizens became clear when they absolutely refused to move away from the voting lines despite the shootings.
When the 2006 Mexican presidential election turned on what many believed to be election fraud, the opposition party offered a strong statement of protest and an affirmation of the rights of self-determination. Three assemblies took place in Mexico City with over a million people at each rally protesting massive fraud.
When Iranians protested the outcome of their 2009 presidential election, stick, knife, and gun wielding representatives of the ruling faction besieged them. Kidnappings and show trials followed. The movement never backed down and continues today.
When the people of Egypt saw the change of government in Tunisia, they rose up in a spontaneous protest targeting three decades of dictatorial rule that produced nothing for them. Worsening food shortages, growing unemployment, and an absence of the most fundamental rights of safe childbirth and reasonable longevity provided the spark. Their continuous protests and clear demand that the immediate removal of the self-selected president and his cabinet were finally met with violence. What else would we expect from a regime that tortures its own people? .
The response in the West was cautious at first, as though the United States and the mature democracies had special rights to broker the end of the Mubarak regime. This was less obdurate than the response to the Tunisian uprising when the State Department said, We don’t take sides. With regard to Egypt, we heard the expected calls for nonviolence and tentative endorsement of the claims of the people. When it was more than apparent which way the wind was blowing, there were calls for Mubarak to hold elections, be more reasonable, etc.
The people in Egypt were and are capably articulating their demands and staging their rebellion. They want Mubarak out along with his henchmen who preside over the crony capitalist state that lavished riches on a very few at the expense of the many. They have their own notions of an orderly transition and, likely, don’t care too much what the White House suggests. They have had enough. To the dictator, now murderer, Mubarak, they say, just leave and we’ll do the rest. It is the same position repeated over and over, day after day.
Our leaders need to get a few things straight.
You don’t broker the fundamental rights of the people. You don’t act as though there are two legitimate sides of a conflict when one side commits torture, oppresses the people, and now, with the veil of faux civility lifted, shoots them down. You don’t talk about an honorable legacy for such a leader without profoundly offending his victims. The willingness of that regime to cause citizens to suffer at the hands of state authorized thugs diminishes and negates any good act the leader might have done in the service of others.
There is such a thing as right and wrong. That choice occurs wherever and whenever people have simply had enough and rise up to assert their rights.
Indulging oppressive leaders simply because they are convenient for the ownership of brand democracy is wrong. In addition, oppressive leaders are highly inconvenient to those who choose to ally with them. We’re finding that out every day in Egypt.
U.S. leaders and their servants in the media and academia should take a good look at the crowds in Egypt. The citizens of the United States are more than aware of the massive inequalities in opportunity and wealth. They notice when millions are forced into foreclosure by a Wall Street-big bank real estate bubble. They notice the accumulation of wealth in the midst of a financial crisis by the very people who created the crisis. They see those around them get sick and die without health care. They notice as millions lose their jobs with little opportunity on the horizon, left with a severely restricted ability to provide for their most basic needs and those of their families.
Brokering fundamental rights is outdated, here or overseas. It opposes the best instincts and values of the people of the United States.
The ruling elites throughout the world must respect the universal rights of peace, freedom, and dignity. The people have had enough.
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