Democracy in the Arab world and U.S. interests

In recent days, the Arab world seems to be flipped upside down from Tunisian strongman Ben Ali being forced to flee his country as protesters continue to take to the streets, self immolations protesting regime’s in Algeria and Mauritania and current demonstrations taking place in Egypt and Yemen.

President Obama in his State of the Union address two nights ago said the following:

We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

These were interesting comments from President Obama especially the phrase “democratic aspirations of all people,” which seems to be a reference to the spirit of revolution that is sweeping the Arab world.  However in the context that President Obama and previous administrations have praised and supported dictatorships in the region for our national interests, I’ve read a number of blog posts and tweets from people in the region referring to Obama’s comments as “double talk.”  The truth of the matter is that our foreign policy has been that we really want democracy only if the people vote on individuals or parties that fit what has been defined as serving “American interests” in the region.

If we truly want democracy for the Arab world, then we have to understand that it’s going to be a messy process, which will entail some people being voted in that we may not care for especially if they attempt to exert any independence for their people from the influence of Western nations.  Let us also remember that the continued establishment of our democracy and self determination has not been a neat process.

After the Revolutionary War, we had legalized slavery for almost one century and a bloody civil war.  Native peoples were pushed off of their lands and had treaties brokered by them, by illegitimate representatives in some cases, which were broken by our government.  We had Jim Crow, the Tuskegee Experiment and the interment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  We had the turbulent 60’s.  And we continue to have structural and institutional racism despite there being an African-American president.

What I’m saying is that it took us over 150 years before we started to get ourselves right morally on a number of issues as a nation, so we shouldn’t possibly believe that the Arab world, if left alone to develop democracy organically, won’t have some major issues.

Let us pray for peace, justice and democracy in the Middle East and Africa during these turbulent times.


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