The difference between the Arab Spring protests and the protests we seem to be having on our side of the pond nowadays is pretty stark. In the Arab countries, the protests are about the right to have a democratic election. Over here, the protests seem to be about the right to mock our democratically-elected leaders.
There are once again a thousands and thousands of people in Tahrir Square in Cairo, in protest of the pronouncement of the Mubarak-installed constitutional council and the military leadership that the presidential election they just had is null and void. The action of the juridical and military elites was so hamhanded, it didn’t even involve waiting until ballots had finished being counted before the invalidation was pronounced. This was not about enforcing “law”, however one conceives of that concept. It was about communicating to the populace “here’s what the people who run this country really think of your vote”.
Though Egyptians, after more than a year of protesting, are pretty obviously tired, it’s clear the bulk of the people did not take this as an opportunity to say “Oh well, that’s just the kind of country this is” and give up on elections as a means of changing the world. When an attempt was made on their democracy, they immediately mobilised TO DEFEND THE IDEA THAT THEIR VOTES DO MEAN SOMETHING.
Once again, we have much to learn from the brave Egyptians in Tahrir Square.
Egypt is clearly not America. In America, the military would immediately be credited with a victory in hindsight taken to be inevitable. This victory would be attributed to its skillful use of “attack ads” and its reliance on deep reserves of “Citizens United” money.
Forgive me if I think that Tahrir Square, once again, is what it looks like when citizens are truly united. No one makes excuses. No one portrays oppression as an inevitable consequence of the system, even though their system remains dirtier than the kind we experience in this part of the world.
Recently in Wisconsin, people abdicated the promise of the movement there and justified doing so because the democratic process offered them a choice between an extremist and someone taken to be too ineffectual to oppose him. Instead of continuing to fight, the movement encouraged defeatism and let the extremist win.
Egyptians certainly, if they wanted to, could complain about their lousy democratic choice as well. The presidential election offered them, in its final round, a choice between a representative of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and a former participant in the Mubarak government. Democracy, to paraphrase Churchill’s famous observation, was proving itself the worst form of government – except for all the others.
Nevertheless, thousands and thousands once more fill Tahrir Square to defend that worst form of government, warts and all, while we on this side of the ocean inexplicably focus our protests not on the many things wrong with our society, but on discrediting democracy as a means to correct them.
I could not be more inspired by them, or more disgusted by us.