February 21, 2011


Egypt, Tunisia . . . and Iran (Shibley Telhami, 2/15/11, National Interest)

While the immediate focus will inevitably be on the start of a new era with all its unknowns and complexities, we need to think deeply about the meaning of the Egyptian uprising and its implications for American foreign policy. A good place to start is to reflect on three powerful conclusions of one of the key young organizers of the uprising, Wael Ghonim, as he was interviewed on Egyptian Dream TV and elsewhere since.

First, this uprising is less about food and more about dignity. Sure, poverty, especially in the extreme, can add to people’s sense of humiliation and powerlessness, particularly where the gap between rich and poor is growing. But neither Ghonim nor his fellow organizers were poor or underprivileged—even if the revolution ultimately became far broader in its scope and more varied in its makeup.

Second, Ghonim, weeping, pronounced to his audience repeatedly, “We are not traitors, we are not traitors,” without any prodding from his interviewer. It is hard to overestimate the deep fear of foreign control that is prevalent in the political culture, not only in Egypt, but elsewhere in the Arab world, and which is cultivated by governments in the region to rally the public behind them. Egyptians and Arabs want liberty and freedom from repressive regimes, but many fear imperialism and outside domination even more.

Third, empowerment—the knowledge of what others outside one’s borders have, the connectedness to the rest of the world, being plugged into global communications—was the principle reason for the drive and the success of the initial organizers of the uprising. Certainly, the information revolution and openness to the outside world were not the cause of the uprising. For many years we have observed a seemingly untenable and widening gap between governments and publics but one without obvious and observable consequences—in part because everyone assumed that mobilizing millions of angry people and empowering them requires substantial political and social organizations the likes of which governments prevented from ever emerging. But, that the information revolution provided a new vehicle of both empowerment and mobilization can no longer be doubted. That this revolution is expanding rapidly we have been measuring every year. The genie is out of the bottle.

It is imperialism, but it's universal and benign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2011 6:56 AM
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