US credibility on the line in Egypt
Your editorial on events in Egypt (SN Jan 30) is on the mark. As international media reports indicate, every dictator in the Middle East is feeling worried if their time (to be toppled by a people’s revolution) is coming soon after what took place in Tunisia and spreading to Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, etc.
As the editorial noted America has an interest in political stability in Egypt and the region but America is also responsible for backing regimes that suppress people’s rights and she now has a duty to back the people’s demands for democratic change.
There is no place for authoritarian rulers. People have a natural right to choose their rulers who must abide by their wishes. Failure to do so, they should be removed from office and if it takes street protests to achieve that goal, so be it. While SN is right that the protesters in Egypt are from varied economic class groups, it was mostly the young who are engaged in pitched battles with security forces as was the case also in Tunisia and is the case in other Arab countries. And it was also young Guyanese who took up the mantle in New York in struggling for the restoration of democracy in their former homeland.
I should note that as a student of international politics, what has been taking place in the Middle East took place in other regions with much success although it did not work in Guyana to topple our dictatorship because of the unique condition Guyana found itself.
In fact, the Middle East protests have brought back memories of the anti-dictatorial struggles in Guyana and New York geared towards bringing down the Guyanese dictatorship and the restoration of democratic elections.
Similar protests in several countries — Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Iran, Thailand, Taiwan, etc. brought down dictatorships and installed democracies. But in Guyana during the dictatorship era, opposition protests were not successful in toppling the dictatorship because the US did not give a helping hand to the movement fearing the rise of a communist government unlike in the Asian countries where the US forced the dictators to leave office. The US is somewhat hesitant in backing the people’s revolutions in the Middle East fearing the rise of Islamic governments that may want to return to medieval practices.
I should note that the Middle East protests have been successful in spite of a lack of public support from their nationals in the US, which is quite different from what took place in Asia during the 1980s. There was effective lobbying by Asian Americans of American politicians for an end to dictatorial rule in their home countries. I remember attending several Asian organized protests in New York and even hosting a lecture (as leader of the student government) for former Philippines Foreign Minister Raul Manglapus at City College. Manglapus turned against the dictator Marcos earning my respect and a lecture at CCNY. The fall of Marcos paved the way for the fall of other Asian dictators and it is hoped the same will happen in the Middle East with the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia.
With regards to Guyana, modeled after similar protests and lobbying by nationals of other countries settled in the US, a handful of us (Guyanese and a few Trinis) abandoned income and organized protests during the 1970s through 1992 and lobbied American politicians to use their power to force democratic changes in Guyana. This change would not come about until the fall of communism when the US felt Guyana’s opposition was no longer a threat to its interests.
Although it was the US that was largely responsible for the restoration of democracy in Guyana, we should not forget that it was the US (and Britain) that installed and propped up the Guyana dictatorship. And it is the US that has been propping up the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt and that has provided military aid to the dictatorships in Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, etc and so many others that have been oppressing their people and blocking their democratic aspirations.
American credibility is on the line. The US has used diplomatic language urging reforms in Egpyt. It should do the same relating to the other dictatorships and don’t wait till protests spread to them. It would have been much better for the US to encourage and back democratic movements instead of supporting dictators to suppress democratic aspirations as happened in Guyana. Had the US backed Guyanese early in their struggle against the dictatorship, we would have avoided many of the problems we face. And the same is true of the Middle East.