Note: I started this post eight days ago, before the demonstrations in Egypt began. Things happen quickly in this world!
The "Jasmine Revolution" unfolding in Tunisia is, in my humble opinion, an extremely important world event worthy of our rapt attention. How many of us even knew where Tunisia is on the world map before this flurry of media coverage? I actually did because we have spent some time in a small town at the southern end of Sardegna (Sardinia), a Mediterranean island that is part of Italy. I studied a map and realized that from our small Sardegnian town we were closer to Tunisia than to Italy. This made me wonder about Tunisia, and I quickly found that it looked like a possible warm beach vacation spot, except that I'm not particularly fond of big resort developments.
But all of that is another story. The very important story here, one that I didn't know, is about the people of Tunisia and their government. I didn't know anything about the Tunisian dictator until the people chased him out. I didn't know that Tunisia has a constitution that prescribes how a President is succeeded and how and when elections are held. I'm beginning to understand this now, but more importantly, I also understand that a successful democratic movement - a mostly peaceful revolution, if you will - will be a major event in history because of the precedent it will set among the Arab countries.
And so I try to follow the unfolding events in Tunisia. I look for news articles in the NY Times and other sources, and I've found a Facebook page "Support Tunisia" to which people are posting their experiences, analyses and opinions.
Fast-forward a week, and now we're all watching in amazement as tens of thousands of Egyptians take to the streets demanding an end to the Mubarak government and the beginning of freedom and democracy. Many reports emerging from Egypt describe the apparent broad base of support for and participation in these demonstrations.
I think about the possible outcomes of these mass movements - or are they more rightly called revolutions? There are many possibilities in each country, and the results could be good or bad for the people of these countries, as well as for the rest of the world.
As an American, I watch these historic events unfold with an understanding of the role of my government in the recent history of each country. The US has supported the dictatorial governments in both Tunisia and Egypt; however, before I can condemn these actions, I have to stop and think about the geopolitical choices that were made. Both governments have generally maintained more secular societies, while keeping extremist religious organizations from gaining power. US security interests, and the security of US allies in the Middle East, including Israel and Arab nations, have been protected. But the cost to the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt for our security has been high in many ways. On the one hand, people around the world look to America as a symbol of freedom; on the other hand, they see America supporting the very governments that oppress them.
How can we resolve this contradiction? I don't know the answer, but I do know that the answer lies somewhere in the development of education, economic growth, and the development of democratic institutions and processes. None of this will be easy, and every step will be fraught with challenges and dangers. The US can certainly play a major supporting role in these developments, but the people of these countries will have to do the heavy lifting.
I support struggles for freedom wherever they take place. As an American, a person privileged to live in a democracy, I can offer encouragement from afar, and I can also urge my government to do the right thing. I also feel strongly that I can support these movements by staying informed about them.