The international media has been very focused on the current uprisings in Egypt (NYT, Globe and Mail, Hedges). As far as I can tell from all the comparisons that are being thrown around (1979 Iran or 1989, take your pick of country), this is the first widespread uprising in my lifetime. Since political prognostication is really not my area of interest, I’ll leave that to others, and instead focus on a couple things that have jumped out at me.
First, this has illustrated quite well the conflict of interests between freedom and capitalism that the US and Israel seem to constantly be engaged in (just check out my favourite political comedian (Canadians, Americans) any day since the uprising began in Cairo). I don’t think I have read anywhere near as much as I should on the topic of less-than-democratic regimes and where they get their support since WWII, though this is a pretty good impetus to correct that. I am probably just repeating what many have said before me, but where exactly did the US see this heading? I am sure that many were aware of the conditions that the average Egyptian lived under for the last 30 years, and while it seems obvious now to point to the uprising as inevitable, any look at history would have painted the same picture.
The second point is the fallout for Israel. As someone contemplating a long-term return to Israel, this has more than a ‘cultural-affiliation’ interest to me. The news that Mubarak was only going to step down after elections in September, when I would conceivably find myself in Israel, was not heartening, given all the hand-wringing going on about the security of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. Being the naïve idealist that I am, I cannot help but think that if a country is run in such a way that the people are able to pursue lives of fulfillment to the greatest degree possible, the notion of diverting much of their energy to wiping a neighboring country off the map will seem less pressing or completely irrelevant. As a friend of mine put it recently, why is war the default position in the Middle East? Why do you need to go out of your way and make a written declaration of peace, when peace being the default position would make a lot more sense?
It may finally be time to grant autonomy to a wider swath of humanity that has previously seemed reasonable to the powerful, and put a little trust in the Millian dictum: “Mankind [humankind] are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest” (On Liberty)