Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Desire for Dignity and Democracy

Max Fisher, associate editor of The Atlantic, writes a poignant assessment of the current uprisings in the Arab world.

He refers to an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad two months ago in which Assad was confident that his country was different from the others. Their stability was due in part because they placed anti-American and anti-Israeli causes at the center of Syria's foreign policy.

And yet, two months later, Syria has been overtaken by anti-government protests that look very similar to those that occupied Cairo's Tahrir Square for two straight weeks. "Demonstrators are marching by the thousands, resisting police crack-downs, calling for political reforms, and torching such symbols of state oppression and corruption..."

"While Assad is right that his foreign policy 'ideology' is the near polar opposite of Mubarak's, which centered on close alliances with the U.S. and Israel, the two governments' despotic, oppressive domestic political systems were about as similar as they could be: single-party republics with life-long "presidents," tightly controlled state economies, rank corruption, arbitrary police rule, and pervasive restrictions on speech."

Fisher concludes, "Now that Arabs are taking to the streets...their desires, it turns out, look an awful lot like those held by the rest of the world's people. Freedom from oppression and arbitrary rule, economic opportunity for self-sufficiency and advancement, and the chance for real political participation. Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism remain real social forces in the region, as anyone who's spent time there can tell you, as do nationalism, legitimate concerns over the plight of Palestinians, and the angry legacy of anti-colonialism. But none of those appeared to be at all driving the popular, massive uprisings so forceful they could oust some of the world's most entrenched regimes. That took the more universal, more human, and apparently much more potent desire for dignity and democracy."

If only the march to a vital democracy, responsive to social needs with a fair justice system, was an easier process.