When I wrote “Why the Arabs Really Hate Us” in January, I received some criticism from readers suggesting that my hope for democracy in Egypt was naïve. That may have been true and may still be today. The idea that democracy will unfold like a blossoming flower in Egypt is naïve. That does not mean, however, that Egypt has no hope of a future that includes democracy or that this future should not begin now. The fear of undemocratic elements in Egypt, like the Muslim Brotherhood, has led many to question the prudence of allowing such a coup to occur. But the path to democracy has never been a straight line, and perhaps after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, Americans have become too accustomed to seeing rapid change in political ideology.
Anyone who believes that a perfect democracy will be constituted in Egypt within the year is naïve. You can’t go overnight from living under a modern-day pharaoh to the direct democracy of Switzerland. But when I hear of read Americans discounting a transition to democracy, it comes as a great surprise because America’s own democracy was not a day in the making. July 4, 1776, did not herald a perfect democracy. Can anyone argue that America is even a perfect democracy today?
America is the first or second most advanced democracy in the world (running in a close heat with Switzerland, which has a direct democracy bordering on the extreme), but the road has been neither straight nor smooth. It took until May 29, 1790, for the last state to ratify the Constitution, after a terrible national experience under the failed Articles of Confederation. America has had its share of violent insurrection. Anyone remember the Civil War, The Shays’ Rebellion, or The Whiskey Rebellion? United States history even includes its own quasi-war of religion, the Utah War, in which minor skirmishes nearly led to a full-fledged battle between Mormon militiamen and the U.S. Army.
These are only the most violent expressions of trouble in American democracy. U.S. history is no stranger to persecution based on ethnicity and race. The horror of black and Indian slavery, forced migration on the terrible “Trail of Tears,” and the internment of Japanese, Germans, and others during World War II aren’t part of what most Americans would define today as a free and fair democracy. It took 144 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence for women to be given the right to vote.
Americans need to think about where we are today and how far we have come. It should be remembered that America didn’t cut a straight path to the freedoms held dear today. Neither will Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, or any other country still oppressed under the rule of a dictatorial government.
Many Americans thought the prudent action would have been to allow Hosni Mubarak to stay in power in Egypt. Mubarak had been an ally, and why take a risk for freedom? Thomas Jefferson laid out a response to that question in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
So, yes, there are many Arabs who hate America for allying with their despotic rulers. And, yes, it may have been prudent to assist these rulers in an attempt to extend America’s will throughout the Middle East and to protect ourselves from the inevitable retribution of those Arabs who do hate us. Egypt has started down the path toward democracy, and, though that path may be twisted, it will lead to a better life for the Egyptian people.