Tag Archives: protests

Perspectives: A Response to the Critics

In my last column, I expressed some of my thoughts on the Egyptian revolution. I was initially surprised by the comments and letters which seemed primarily to be personal attacks on me, my religion, and my political beliefs. But as I read through them, I also found many that were respectfully written and constructively critical.

I did not intend to offend anyone and am sorry if anyone was hurt. I have taken many of the criticisms seriously, but a lot of people took my words out of context, and the message I intended to get across was not accurately received.

I did make an error in a particular sentence, which I would like to correct: I said the “only” thing driving the revolution was food, but I should have said “one of the many things” driving the revolution was food. The use of the word “food” was not meant to downplay other causes of Egyptian unrest, but to emphasize the high level of poverty experienced by approximately 40 per cent of the population, and the low percentage of GDP growth—0.21 per cent, compared to 187 per cent in Jordan and 132 per cent in Algeria. Many people felt I had misunderstood the Egyptians’ demands by mentioning poverty as the central cause of the revolution. I fully acknowledge that Egyptians were demanding democratic and human rights as well as an increase in their poor living conditions; however, it would be naive to claim that food was not a primary motivating factor for many Egyptians. Abdel-Wanis, an Egyptian father of six, when asked what his reasons for supporting the revolution were was quoted in the National Post as saying, “For five years I have been looking for my day’s food, and finally I found people to stand with.”

Yes, I am Jewish, as some people kindly pointed out, but when I mentioned the region’s volatility I was not only referring to Israel. As protests have spread to more parts of the Middle East we have seen countries that have not be able to protest as Egyptians did.

I did not intend to suggest that Egyptians do not deserve democracy. I do not see Egyptians as different from me or anyone else. The point I was trying to make is that democracy is a very expensive and time-consuming process. The costs of implementing a democratic system in a poverty-ridden country must be considered.

What was most misinterpreted was why I believe Egyptians do not necessarily want a democracy. While I was watching the news, I often saw Egyptians saying they wanted liberal rights, namely freedom of speech, press, and religion. I support liberal rights and certainly believe we should stand up for them, but democracy does not guarantee anybody those rights. Moreover, having multiple parties, free elections, and voting rights does not necessarily mean that liberal rights will develop in Egypt, or any other country.

I stated, quite controversially, that I do not believe democracy is a human right. I stand by that statement, though I don’t have the space to defend the idea here. However, I do believe democracy is something a society may strive for. I think that, for now, Egyptians should focus on obtaining liberal rights and better living conditions for everyone.

In my first column of the year, I said that I hope to have open dialogue with readers and to discuss new perspectives on issues we care about. I want to thank the readers who took time to write me thoughtful, respectful responses. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to hear different opinions and I hope we can continue this constructive dialogue and help bridge the gaps in our community.

 

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Jumping on the Anti-Mubarek Bandwagon

I’m not proud to admit this, but, until recently, I did not support the protesting in Egypt. Why would these protesters try to topple their own government and implement a democratic system, when this has failed in many other Middle Eastern countries? Why would these protesters demand the resignation of their country’s leader, who helped maintain stability in the region?

I was afraid of what these protests would mean to the Middle East. Certainly, if Mubarek stepped down or was thrown out, this would cause problems for its neighbors, who must now reacquaint themselves with a new regime. Would this mean that the peace treaty signed with Israel would still be valid? I believed if these protesters ‘won,’ then other nearby countries would learn from their example and wreck similar havoc in their own countries.

My concerns were selfish, as I was only considering the safety and stability of the region, and not of the Egyptian people themselves. I had forgotten the key reason to these protests: food.

Yes, I think these protesters can sum up what they want in one word. They want food. Unemployment is so high in Egypt, the poverty level has been rising for years and there is barely any food, despite receiving billions in foreign aid per year. And so, it’s easy for people like myself sitting comfortably in their homes, fridges stocked full of food, to forget how unnatural and horrifying hunger is (and this lack of food represents so much more: poor living conditions, high death rates and, of course, the government failing to disperse foreign aid to their domestic population and failing to provide a normal living situation for their citizens).

So once I remembered this basic human right, I decided to ‘jump on the anti-Mubarek bandwagon.’

But I’m still weary as to what exactly will benefit the protesters. Yes, I understand their desire to fight their government to provide them with human rights like food and bearable living conditions, but I do not think that democracy is a right. Controversial as that may be, democracy is not for everyone. Many countries have tried to implement it – and failed. Forcing democracy on Middle Eastern countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan, has failed.

You might then ask, well, the Egyptians want democracy, so surely this is a different situation. Well, it’s not.

The Egyptians want a better living situation than the one they have now. They don’t want to riot in the streets for food. So they equate democracy with a solution to their increasing problems. Because, democracy looks great in the west! After all, it seems like the Western democratic countries have food galore with governments who protect their basic human rights.

Yes, I value democracy and would not want to live in a society without it. But I don’t think everyone shares my views. I think some people don’t care if they can vote or not, if they have multiple parties, if they have a fair say in government, especially people who pride themselves on being fiercely independent and responsible for themselves.  I think we’ve tried to implement democracy in the Middle East, because, we too, equate democracy with these other benefits.

The problem in Egypt is not democracy, but a corrupt government. Not all authoritarian governments are corrupt and not all democratic governments are honest. The way to get rid of a corrupt government and increase the standard of living in Egypt is not to implement a costly, lengthy, tiring transition to a democratic system, especially one that will be influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood (which will then probably revert back to corruption). Mubarek should resign so that another leader, perhaps democratically elected, perhaps not, can take his place to provide his country with the things they need. Implementing democracy right now is not the best option.

I think Mubarek should resign. As Thomas Hobbes believed, if a leader cannot protect and provide for its people, then it’s not doing its job. Like Hobbes, I don’t think we need to establish a democratic system here. Maybe that’s what will happen one day in the future – but for now, the people are crying out for one thing – and it’s not really democracy.