COMMENTARY: US should support international protests

Mirza Mustafic

t and North Africa have taken the world by storm. The images the world has seen clearly show the discontent and anger with the terrible state of affairs that people in that region have endured for decades.

What do the events taking place there mean for Americans, and how should the U.S. respond to ensure a fresh, positive start in an area of the world with such a high degree of anti-American feeling?

First, look back to the beginning. In December 2010, a young street vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire at the police station of a provincial Tunisian town. He had dreams about going to a university and getting a better job, but the economic hardships in the country forced him to sell fruits and vegetables in the local market, becoming the only source of income for his family.

But he was denied even this when the police confiscated his cart, claiming he did not have a permit. His death and subsequent protests forced the dictator, Ben Ali, from power only a few days after the world was alerted about the uprising in Tunisia.

Within days after the story hit the mainstream media, protests and disorder spread throughout virtually the entire Arab world, most notably in Egypt.

The conditions in Egypt were very similar to those in Tunisia. Like Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt, ruled the country for decades, but his pro-Western stance and neoliberal economic policies caused the Western world to ignore the severe human rights abuse and repression there.

High unemployment and a lack of real opportunities fueled the discontent among the populace with their government. The government responded by cracking down on dissent.

The successful overthrows of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt have spurred similar outbursts in other Arab countries, including Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Algeria, where the conditions are extremely similar.

What is taking place in the Arab world is nothing less than democratic revolutions against neoliberal, corrupt dictatorships. The people are demanding a real voice and active participation in the political life of their country and a government that will provide jobs and some measure of security.

The U.S., far from condemning these popular uprisings, should quietly support them because it would show the people of those countries that America is with them, instead of against them and their aspirations for democracy and good governance.

In these newly democratized countries, the U.S. will no longer be able to pay off dictators to ensure support for its policies, but will have to pursue positive policies to win the trust of the people. Fears that Islamists will take over once the pro-Western dictators are gone are completely unfounded; the people did not overthrow pro-Western dictatorships to replace them with Islamic ones.

Instead of intervening and causing more conflicts, the U.S. should support and cooperate with the democratic movements so that it gets off on the right footing with the new democratic order emerging in the region.

Those who speak out against the “unlawful” methods used by the protestors against their repressive governments should ask themselves this: Did the U.S. achieve its independence through the ballot box? Was slavery abolished through the ballot box?

The protests in the Arab world are teaching us a timeless lesson: dictatorships can last for years, or even decades, but when anger boils over and the ordinary people are willing to risk their lives for a better society in their country, nothing is able to stand in their way.

Mirza Mustafic

WKU class of 2010

This commentary doesn’t necessarily represent the views of the Herald or the university.