African Political Upheaval

In my first blog entry of the year, I wrote about the situation in the Ivory Coast… between a leader that refuses to give up power and a leader that rightfully won the election (at least, as it was certified by the United Nations).  However, there has been plenty of events unfolding in upper nations of Africa in the past couple of weeks that has been making headlines.  As the people of the Ivory Coast wonder which leader will end up being head of their government, the people of the country of Tunisia took to the streets and ousted their regime that had been in power for over two decades.  The former dictator has fled the Arab nation and an interim government is in the works to restore order… however, there is still some bad blood with the fact that some members of the old regime still remain at their posts.  But elections are supposed to be held within 6-months to establish a new government that the people have chosen.

Since this was occurring in an Arab nation that had a fairly powerful authoritarian regime in place, the question began to circle as to whether this type of mass unrest could spread to other Arab nations in the region that had authoritarian regimes in place, as well.  Tunisia had the element of surprise.  The government nor any part of the world probably would have predicted what happened there.  And it can be very difficult for people in such a country to rise up in protest and overthrow their leaders.  With the element of surprise gone, how would it all play out?  The people of other nations have been watching and waiting.  And the answer has come.  Mass protests have begun in Egypt to ouster President Mubarak from power and to hold free and open elections.  It is not yet certain what will happen in Egypt… and the future of the overall momentum is resting partly upon it.

When talking about the situation in Egypt earlier in the day (and partly Tunisia), someone had made the comment that the ouster of President Mubarak of Egypt would be a huge thorn in American foreign diplomacy and our overall goal of peace between Israel and Palestinians to which Egypt has had a large hand in helping us with… and it has given some credibility to all the work since they are an Arab nation as well.   But the question that must be asked is this… just because a nation or leader supports our overall foreign policy, do we, as the United States, have the right to support and to try to sustain an authoritarian regime that the people of that nation no longer desire and have the courage and the will to stand up to and overthrow?

To the possible surprise of many, the United States has supported authoritarian regimes in the past that have been against everything that we stand for.  So why did we support such regimes?  Because it was the time of the Cold War, and they were on our side.  Our view was that if we supported those regimes, they would ally themselves with us rather than the Soviet Union.  And usually, we still had to clean up our own mess in the end.  But to get to something more modern (for all of those saying that doesn’t happen now since the Cold War is over), the country of Iraq was just like that.  The United States made Iraq what it was and gave it its technology and armaments, and we put Saddam Hussein in power.  Why?  To use him as a buffer against Iran after its revolution in 1979 (which was the will of the people overthrowing another form of government to which they had no voice in).

Though the situation in Tunisia started this situation, it is now up to the people in those other nations with authoritarian regimes to determine how much farther it will go.  That is why we must all watch what now happens in Egypt.  With the element of surprise gone (unlike Tunisia), governments have had time to prepare.  And if the people of these two nations are able to get their nations on a new course, then it is a strong possibility that it could start effecting other neighboring regimes as well.  Right now, we sit and watch and wait.  Other nations that should be worried consist of Libya, Syria, Lebanon, and even Iran (where it was only a few years ago that the people were in the streets protesting after a “fraudulent” election).

So what should the US do?  Have we learned from our past mistakes in dealing with authoritarian regimes?  We definitely need to let the people of these nations determine what form of government they want to form and allow them to do so.  It is their right and their will.  But we should also be mindful of the events as they unfold to make sure that genocide does not take place or any type of persecution (both religious and political).  If there were to come a time that we must get involved to restore order, we must do so with complete international cooperation.  But we must first give the people a chance.  And let the word go out, that the power ultimately lies with the people.  Those that are in power are only there because we deem it as such, as we can revoke it if it becomes necessary for our survival.


One Response to African Political Upheaval

  1. James S. says:

    And this article on NPR from a few days ago covers some of the freedoms that have returned to Tunisia in the days since their leader went into exile… Progress…

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