With these words ringing in our ears, it is hardly surprising that a number of governments, ours included, usually so gung-ho about exporting democracy to other parts of the world – particularly the Middle Eastern bits – seem to be remaining tight-lipped about the uprisings in Egypt.
Of course, as Justin McKeating notes, America and Britain have a many different reasons not to be pushing Egyptian President Mubarak out of the door too swiftly, at least not until they have safely recovered the keys to the filing cupboards (you just know there are paper records somewhere…) containing details of all the War on Terror detainees renditioned to the country to be tortured on our behalf.
And via Truth, Reason & Liberty we learn that even if the Western leaders wanted to share in the glow of their very own Berlin Wall moment, they have the restlessness of the international markets to consider first:
A one-dollar, one-day increase in a barrel of oil takes $12 million out of the U.S. economy. If tensions in the Mideast cause oil prices to rise by $5 for even just three months, over $5 billion dollars will leave the U.S. economy. Obviously, this is not a strategy for creating new jobs
– Jason S. Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington research group, quoted in the New York Times
Difficult to ignore the not-so-veiled threat to workers in America contained in the last line.
So, while it is tempting to get carried away by the romance of soldiers and protesters embracing, hard-headed realism is required. As the regime rounds up journalists and seeks to prevent pictures being taken of Tahrir Square, as more protesters are shot, it is essential that we stand in solidarity with the people of Egypt as they struggle to make their society more as they wish it to be. Even if they get their wish and see Mubarak removed, what follows may be far from the envisaged democracy, as vested interests seek to protect their privileges.
Then, maybe it is also time for us to stop the bar-room and blog grandstanding and learn from Egypt’s example, where people are out on the streets, trying to change their realities in any way they can. As I sit typing in Japan’s safe commercial paradise, a country that one of my students describes as ‘slowly sinking’, unwilling to wake up to the problems it faces, I can only wish for some of what is in the water in Cairo to be transported to Tokyo and London, to help us avoid complacency, however unlikely that appears.
Egyptians are in the street looking for a brighter day. Are we content to sit and watch it on TV, or can we be persuaded to join them?
Photograph from 3 quarks daily, via the mortal bath. More photographs of the demonstration at the Boston Globe