America & the Arab Spring: A New Forward

America & the Arab Spring: A New Forward

 The toppling of the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak and new dawn in Egypt strikes fear of uncertain change in the region in the hearts of many rulers. It has inspired protests in Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, and Yemen; the creation of a political party in Saudi Arabia; and concerns in Iran’s Islamic Republic, which was so shaken by the Green Movement in its last presidential elections. 


The end of the Mubarak regime demonstrates the falsity of commonly held stereotypes: Arabs reject democracy, Islam is incompatible with popular sovereignty, the grip of rulers of security states is unshakeable. Pro-democracy protesters were driven by longstanding political and economic grievances: the lack of democracy, a growing gap between a rich minority and the middle class and poor, rampant corruption, rising food prices, high unemployment levels, lack of opportunity, and a sense of a future for young people. Egyptians reclaimed their dignity and control of their lives, demanding an end to widespread corruption as well as government accountability and transparency, rule of law, human rights, and the right to determine the government and destiny of Egypt.

The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have revealed a broad-based, pro-democracy movement that is not driven by a single ideology or by religious extremists. What has occurred is not an attempt at an Islamist takeover, but a broad-based call. As their signs, placards, statements, and demands demonstrate, protesters want Egyptian unity, speak of one Egypt, and sing the Egyptian national anthem; they wave Egyptian flags, not Islamist placards. People from every walk of life, professionals and laborers, were united in a common cause.

Surprising? Not really. The Gallup World Poll of more than 35 Muslim majority countries, representing the voices of a billion Muslims, had reported that in Egypt and in most Muslim countries, majorities surveyed wanted greater democratization, freedoms, and the rule of law. That said, regrettably, the U.S. and many European countries continued long-standing policies to support authoritarian regimes, security states. Despite America’s claim to promote democracy and human rights as the Bush administration acknowledged, America (under all recent presidents) has had a legacy of "democratic exceptionalism," what many have seen as a "double standard," supposed American promotion of democracy globally, but support for authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world. This policy, while attractive to authoritarian allies and their entrenched elites, fed anti-Americanism and fears of Western intervention, invasion, occupation, and dependency.

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