Protesters in Tahrir Square Egypt Cairo 311 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
When I first expressed concern that the protesters in Egypt needed some support
to implement democracy, I was immediately pilloried by critics who said I was
What the protesters were doing was to demand freedom, they
railed at me, as if somehow questioning the events was immoral or, as Arabs say,
Well, what I wrote was that the people of the Arab
world have no experience in democracy. They have been raised in environments of
repression, where free speech is stifled and punished. And I asked, how can they
achieve genuine democracy on their own?
Middle East tyrants routinely and
swiftly imprisoned, punished, or killed anyone who criticized their
governments. Criticism of a government is the fundamental basis of the
free speech provision of a true democracy. The crackdowns were so
frequent that it became routine and a rare thing to report.
The only free
speech tolerated by Middle East dictatorships was to criticize the West, the
Christian world or Israel. Later, with the rise of more liberal broadcast news
outlets like Al-Jazeera, the media began criticizing other Arab countries, but
not the ones that host them.Satellite channels Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar
while Al-Arabiyya is based in Dubai, part-owned by a Saudi media
The protesters had no experience in democracy yet the world
watched in awe with great expectations, hoping it would miraculously
But how can we expect people who have no experience in democracy
democracy? Can efforts at democracy even survive? Democracy has a
higher chance of failing in the Middle East than in any other
AMERICA HAS been trying to implement democracy in Iraq since it
invaded the country in March 2003, and it has failed. Iraq has a “government,”
but it’s not a democracy where the citizens define their leadership. The leaders
in Iraq were handpicked by the United States.
So how can anyone expect
democracy to just suddenly appear in Egypt, even after protests resulted in the
removal of a dictator like President Husni Mubarak?
The Arabs live in a dream
world controlled by the lowest common denominator of peer pressure fanaticism.
If you express support, for example, for peace based on compromise with Israel,
you are vilified and called “defeatist” by the fanatics who are a minority voice
in the Arab community but the loudest. The majority voices, who are moderates,
are not used to speaking their minds and they remain silent.
democracy in the West to voice hatred and support radicalism in the Middle East.
That’s why the fanatics do a better job of PR than the moderates.
result is the few voices of the extremists appear to be the majority, when they
are not, because in the Middle East, perception is reality.
In Egypt, the
protesters toppled Mubarak, a tyrant who accumulated so much wealth, the media
reports, it is in the billions. But, did the protesters topple the mindset
caused by a lifetime of oppression and the denial of freedom? Will Mubarak be
replaced by the will of the people or just by a new, more cunning dictatorship?
Violence often becomes the primary means of responding to things that people do
not like in the Middle East. If you say something that the extremists do not
like, rather than conduct a debate in the local media, extremists simply
intimidate you into silence (as they often try unsuccessfully with me) or they
just try to kill you, as they did to Juliano Mer-Khamis, the actor whose Jewish
mother fought for Palestinian rights and whose Palestinian father taught him the
lessons of peaceful coexistence.
Now, of course, we are watching the
post-Mubarak era transform from a tyranny. But is it transforming to democracy?
Last week, the ruling military junta that has taken the reins of power in Egypt
have arrested an Egyptian blogger while the future of the real criminal dictator
Mubarak remains in question.Mubarak has been allowed to express his views
condemning his critics and vowing to take anyone who calls him corrupt to
What the people of Egypt lack is what they need. Not only must
they topple a dictator, but they also must be able to replace it with true
democracy where voices are allowed to speak freely on any topic. There needs to
be a tolerance for free speech.
Free speech in an environment of
intolerance is not free speech at all. And, it will not result in
I wish for real democracy in Egypt and throughout the Middle
East.The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk
show host. www.YallaPeace.com
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