Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Freedom or stability in the Middle East?

In the past few weeks, Georgians have watched as two Arab nations were rocked by spontaneous uprisings.  First, the Tunisian people rose up against Ben Ali and threw the dictator out of the country.  The spontaneous revolution occurred without the support or aid of Western democracies.  In contrast, US presidents have long been friendly with the Tunisian regime.

The Tunisian revolution started after a street peddler set himself on fire to protest unemployment.  The protests spread throughout the country and four weeks later Ben Ali, who had ruled the country for twenty-three years, fled.

Now, the people of Egypt are taking to the streets against the one-party rule of President Hosni Mubarak.  Three protesters have already given their lives to push for an end to the regime as police and security forces crack down.  The ultimate outcome of the Egyptian protests is still in doubt.

What has fueled these unprecedented revolts?  For years, most of the Arab (and Muslim) world has lived under authoritarian regimes.  For the past half century, these leaders have marshaled their people against Israel.  The Arab people were convinced that they had to sacrifice in order to throw the Zionists out of the Middle East.  Every problem of the Arab nations, including shark attacks, was and is blamed on Israel.  Fifty years later, all the Arabs have to show for it are thousands of dead and impoverished economies. 

The first two true Arab democracies are less than ten years old.  Afghanistan had its first free election in 2004.  Iraq followed in 2005.  These elections are the result of the heroic efforts of American soldiers and the tenacity of President Bush.  Although many Muslim leaders condemned the United States and other countries participating in the War on Terror as waging war on Islam, it was American soldiers and other members of the Coalition who sacrificed their lives to free Muslims from the despotic rule of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. 

Perhaps, the people of Egypt and Tunisia were tired of listening to the empty promises of their leaders.  Perhaps they were inspired by the images of Afghan and Iraqi voters standing in opposition to the terrorists as they chose their own leaders.  Perhaps they grew to believe that the central control of a nation and its economy was not a viable path to prosperity.

The Middle East is at a crossroads.  For decades, American policy has been one of pursuing stability.  Stability means that the present authoritarian governments will stay in power.  Stability means no change.  Tunisia was unstable, but it is now free. 

Do we want to promote stability or freedom in the Middle East?  Freedom is messy.  Freedom is not stable.  Nevertheless, free Middle Eastern nations may be the best road to peace in the Middle East.  If the people of the Middle East throw off the shackles of their tyrants, it is more likely that their nations will grow into vibrant economies.  With strong economies and lower unemployment, governments will have fewer reasons to use propaganda to demonize Israel.  Peace might actually be possible.

The absence of stability means the possibility of short term violence and war, but there are worse things than war.  Freedom is never given freely by tyrants.  It is won with the blood of patriots who are willing to give of themselves so that their children can be free.  Our own country would not exist without our war of independence and the willingness of our forefathers to fight to be free.  As we Georgians celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, let us applaud and support the people of the Arab world who are fighting for their freedom.

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