Yesterday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak became the second long-standing Middle Eastern ruler to be pushed from office by popular protest (the other was Tunisian President’s resignation last year). However, unlike the civil movement in Tunisia, the uprising in Egypt was fueled by peaceful demonstrations that, “gave lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence,” Obama said. “It was the moral force of nonviolence—not terrorism, not killing—that bent the arc of justice.”
Whether democracy will be fully instituted in Egypt’s new found sense of freedom is yet unknown, yet it brings the question: Was President Bush right all along in his quest to spread democracy in the Arab world? I disagree.
Democracy still remains a key component of U.S. foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle Eastern region. However, unlike Bush, Obama believes the invocation of democracy should not come through undemocratic means of violence.
When we try to impose democracy, we tarnish it. During the Bush administration, Bush forcefully tried to impose American democratic ideals on the rest of the world (ie. the Iraq War). This has not served our nation well, and has only spurred greater opposition to the United States in that area of the world. Instead of trying to coerce these nations to accept democracy (like Bush), we should purse a more diplomatic, strategic, and multilateral approach (like Obama).
Whether Egypt moves toward genuine democracy or lapses back toward authoritarianism; and whether democratic ideals will eventually spread to the surrounding nations (Iran, Jordan, etc) depends on how we act in this crucial period.
When Obama took office, he decided to dial back some of the rhetoric and rebuild the United States' credibility on human rights. It was in this context that he went to Cairo on June 4, 2009, and delivered what was billed as an effort at outreach to the Muslim world:
"I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.
America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; government that is transparent…these are not just American ideas; they are human rights.”
Compare this with Bush’s forceful rhetoric in Iraq: “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.”
Today, we have seen the success of this approach.
By making a true case for democracy, giving the Egyptian people—not the American government—power, the U.S. may now have a greater chance to truly instill democratic ideals in the Middle East.