Friday, February 11, 2011

Democracy No, Freedom Yes


With Mubarak leaving power in Egypt and jubilant crowds filling the streets, the storyline is all about losing a dictator and gaining a democracy. Whether that happens, how long it takes, and who ends up in charge all remain to be seen, but the United States shouldn't be pushing for democracy -- we should be pushing for freedom.

In a democracy, you can still end up with bad leaders making bad decisions and limiting the rights of some citizens. Majority rule doesn't always ensure that the voices of the minority are heard and their liberties respected. Ask anyone who's been on the losing side of an election where simple human rights were on the line in our own country -- women who wanted to vote before 1920, blacks who wanted equality before 1965, or gays who want to marry now. It may have been democracy in action, but there were no freedom guarantees, no simple human decency afforded.

If we want free and fair elections in Egypt, the only role the US should play is to encourage candidates who stand first and foremost for freedom. We can no longer prop up some goon just because he'll play ball with our military-industrial complex or make deals that favor commerce at the expense of humanity.

That policy should apply beyond Egypt, as well. Our nation deserves blame for standing behind lots of oppressive oligarchs, like the Saudi royal family, solely because they have a valuable resource in their land. Those who know their history will remember that we stood with Saddam Hussein for many years (including when he was killing his own people en masse) until he was deemed to have gone too far.

Perhaps the new generation of under-30-year-olds in Egypt, who outnumber their elders and drove this 3-week-long revolution that toppled a corrupt regime, can lead that nation down a path towards freedom. If so, perhaps others in the region will follow their lead.

It is the only path we should support, but it must be borne of their own free will.