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« Churches Against Homophobia | Main | The Directory of Health Care Recruiters »

Prop Up Egypt: Support Civil Society, Not Dictators

By John Atlas
February 3, 2011

John F. Kennedy famously said: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

With you I am watching the people of Egypt and other Arab nations try to step out from under the boot of tyranny. I hope it’s not too late for Obama to seek out and support the civic activists throughout the Middle East who want justice, and to live in a free society.

While many in the Islamic world, including those in the streets, are dangerous anti-American and anti-Israel religious fanatics, to the surprise of most Americans I bet, many others are concerned about getting things like good jobs and their children an education.

Many involved in the demonstrations are poor, factory workers and jobless. But also on the front lines are professors, members of soccer clubs, workers in human rights groups, and in places like the Al-Nakheel Association for Women and Children. They are journalists, lawyers, religious moderates, secular leftists, union organizers, bloggers, filmmakers and artists, some of whom, from their space in the civil society, have fought the despots, without much help from the United States, and usually paid dearly.

New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquar’s book (The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday, 2008) refers to an e-mail that the Hezbollah PR folks sent to reporters on their birthday and is about MacFarquar's unexpected encounters with civic activists, reformers and political dissidents seeking change in the Middle East who often paid the price with jail and torture.

His stories show us that justice and respect are major tenets of Islam, but like in all societies these values must be nurtured.

A peaceful transition from tyranny to democracy is unlikely, not only because there are supporters of Mubarak, but also because of Washington’s idiotic long time policy of embracing of Arab dictators at the expense of helping shore up the civil society. This policy, pursued by both Republicans, but Democrats, reaches back to 1953 when the CIA-engineered a coup against a democratic reform government in Iran led by Mohammad Mosaddegh.

Had US leaders pushed back against the Big Oil and aided moderate Muslims, secularists and democrats like Mosaddegh and nurtured a stronger civil society, a peaceful change would be possible. Civic leaders would be in a position to win the people’s hearts and minds against extreme Islamists and move toward a transitional government.

Another great Kennedy, Robert F. said: "We must [recognize the human equality of people] not because it is economically advantageous - although it is; not because the laws of God command it - although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do."

Washington, especially the Bush administration, may have given lip service for human rights in Iraq and in the Arab world, but it was mostly cosmetic and cynical.

Had America pursued the right thing our country would have been seen as a strong supporter of the people of Egypt, instead of being its hated enemy. We call for free elections and democratic reforms, but fail to help build the necessary core institutions needed to support a free society, such as a free press and strong non-governmental civic and moderate religious groups. Hopefully I am wrong and its not too late.

By the way if any of you are in the NYC metro area you can catch me on Steve Adubato on "One on One with Steve Adubato at Lincoln Center." It airs tonight, February 3 at 11:30 p.m. on WLIW21. It will be the last time you can catch this interview, which was previously broadcast on Sunday Jan.29 on Channel 13 and Monday Jan. 30.

Editors' Note: John Atlas is the author of the new book Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group, available at Amazon and other book stores.

Comments (1)

Ken Poland Author Profile Page:

John, I'm afraid the United States foreign policy is based on religious ideology and the insatiable quest for money and power. Neither of those are always supportive of democracy or civil rights of the individual.

I'm like you, I am not real hopeful that this will change. It can only change when we, as citizens, elect government servants who can see beyond religion and money. And, maybe that will not happen until society, as a whole, begins to accept religious freedom and equitable accumulation of wealth.

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