Egypt's Rabbits and Tigers

By Ding Li
Published: 2011-02-17

Observer, page 33
Issue 506, February 13, 2011
Translated by Tang Xiangyang, Ruoji Tang
Original article:[

The year of the tiger is over, and the year of the rabbit has arrived.

The animals of the Chinese zodiac continue to replace each other, just as the wheel of life continues to turn.
But this year things have been a little different.

The "African Model" we witnessed in Tunisia in January this year saw the people of Tunisia succeed in gaining power through peaceful means.

But the enemies of democracy still resort to violence. While fireworks exploded on the streets of China, the sound of gunfire echoed around the Egyptian capital as those working for the government fired on demonstrators.

Over the bustling Spring Festival period, the Chinese people have paid little attention to the Egyptian revolution.

Although more and more people have already stopped watching television in China, some media outlets continue to pore over the boring minutiae of the Spring Festival Gala, it's as if they consider this dumb-downed spectacle to be the sum of the whole world and that the revolution in Egypt as something not even worth mentioning.However, in reality, this revolution will reshape the political contours of the Middle East and the world as a whole.

The Spring Festival Holiday has now ended and people are once again squeezing onto buses and trains and making their way back to the places where they work to devote themselves to contributing to the cause of GDP growth.While in far-away Egypt, the people have already decided to choose a different path. Whether their hopes can be realized, whether it will lead to a better life, this is still to be seen.

Egypt’s Revolution

For 30 years, America has given Mubarak’s Egypt tens of billions of dollars in military aid. America’s only condition was that 82 year-old Mubarak would not contest the September elections.

Similar to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, during Mubarak's 30 years at the helm in Egypt, participating in an election always meant winning.

Since Egypt has experience in holding nation-wide presidential elections, the real democracy that will emerge after today is not being built from scratch.

Egypt has democratic foundations.

Mubarak has been called the “the last Pharaoh of Egypt.” The first Pharaohs reigned over Egypt in 3,000 B.C. and Egypt has over 5,000 years of civilized history, but a long history is not a justification for dictatorship and the power of the Pharaoh has long ceased to be a symbol of civilization.

Democracy is older than tyranny. Modern dictatorships represent the peak of thousands of years of struggle by despotic rulers, will they continue to be successful in the future?

America is No Friend of Democracy

Of course dictatorships around the world hope that Mubarak can suppress the uprising, but democracies do not take responsibility for political uprisings in other countries. In successful democracies, rulers answer to their electorates and it's inevitable that they look to safeguard their own national interest.

Relations between countries are often in conflict. Democratic countries will willingly sacrifice their support for the spread of democratic values at the altar of looking after their own national interests.

Calling for democracy is simply a fine-sounding but insincere foreign policy tool.

For a democracy, this is a natural approach to foreign policy.

America’s closest allies are often dictators, and this time, they have once again betrayed the pleas of the Egyptian people.

The US enjoys its image as a champion of democracy, especially when dictatorships stand in the way of American interests.

But unless it benefits America or Israel, up until now, the US has never been a supporter of the struggle for democracy in another country.

The real push for democracy comes from the decisions and struggles of the ordinary people in a given country. But even then, the struggle for democracy is not always successful as the enemies of democracy are powerful. They have the tanks and guns and the will to use them. Sometimes these weapons are supplied by the U.S.
Autocratic states that are friendly with America are the best at serving American interests as dictators who are willing to sacrifice the national interest for their own personal interests are willing to support America. The most fundamental interest of these tyrants is to maintain the stability of the regime, and there is nothing they will not do to ensure this stability.

The people have their own interests, and the price of buying them off is too high for anyone. The 80 million Egyptians are not pawns in an American game or a defensive foil for Israel, they have their own lives. When they are strong enough, Americas should stand beside them. Otherwise, America will be helping dictators to suppress their own people.

When the protests first began, American Vice President Joe Biden clearly stated that Mubarak was not a dictator. President Obama said that Egypt’s transition to democracy was underway. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that for stability, the transition should be a gradual process. After some deliberation, America stood behind Mubarak, at least until the September elections.

This brings new complications to Egypt’s transition to democracy. On the surface, America’s excuse is that it is interested in Egypt’s stability. Behind their decision we cannot rule out the possibility that America is arranging for another proxy president, one that will be even more dependent on US support.

Often, extremism is the result of despotic rule just as terrorism is caused by imperialist expansion. An oppressive regime creates the breeding ground for extremism. After three weeks of protests, America has already changed its tune three times. The US does not want to lose its hold over Egypt, but it must pick a side.*

The White House and Mubarak’s "honeymoon days" are over. But America would rather back Mubarak instead of the people of Egypt because Mubarak is still willing to serve American interests. Obama and Mubarak will both regret the latter’s decision not to give up power sooner. As there is no love lost when it comes to international politics, America will soon forget its old friend.

Even if America manages to win over the protestors, Egyptian citizens will not act like Mubarak, ready to serve American and Israeli interests.

Egyptians have their own national interest.Because of his close ties with America and Israel, Mubarak has been labeled a Zionist by some of his opponents. This is an exaggeration, but few in Egypt share his views.

Democracy is something that is won for yourself through struggle; it has little to do with America. America has a sizable influence in Egypt. But if the Egyptian people who are struggling for democracy pin their hopes on America, they will lose democracy or their national interest, or possibly both.

The Rise of the Islamic world

Over the past several decades, driven by the capital, technology and markets of the West, many countries have experienced rapid development. At the same time, some countries have been influenced by Western culture to a greater or lesser extent - this includes China and other East Asian countries.

However, Islamic countries appear to be an exception to this trend. It is as if the countries are eternally lingering on the threshold of modernization, excessively reliant on wealth accumulated through oil and other natural resources.

For more than one thousand years, the Islamic world has been competing with the Christian world. While the two cultural spheres are geographically close to each other, their religious doctrines converge in some areas but diverge in others.

Therefore, many Muslim are against a modernization that has its roots in the West and which includes a democratic tradition.

In many Islamic countries, citizens are more antagonistic to the force of western civilization than the subjects of China's Qing dynasty were.

Now, they have already learned to separate their enemies from any cultural achievements that they might possess.

When they accept the achievements of the other's civilization, enemies will become acceptable and will no longer be considered as mortal enemies. Only then will world peace and cultural diversity become a real possibility.

After being defeated by the Christian world in both the military and commercial sphere, the Islamic world became isolated; their culture, once prosperous, lost vitality.

In recent years, some Muslim have becomes extremists in despair, with various violent attacks appearing in the news often.

Egypt is one of the most influential countries in the Arabic world, and a successor to an ancient civilization.

The search for democracy is also a search for changes, as the desire for democracy is born of hope rather than despair.

It’s not taking it too far if we view the Egyptian democracy movement as the turning point that will lead to the renaissance of Islamic civilization.

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are the first round of a revolution in the Islamic world, there goals are democracy and peace rather than dictatorship and violence.

The Egyptian revolution is also similar to the political upheaval that shook Eastern Europe in 1989 and which did away with the scepter of nuclear war and gave birth to peace.

When the Cold War ended, the world economy entered a period of rapid development and many countries, including those that were once in the sphere of the Soviet Union, enjoyed the "dividends of the peace."

That said, some countries (such as Romania) have lagged behind due to their weak legal system.

If the revolution succeeds, the democratic revolution of the Islam world will bring prosperity to a large area of the world, eliminate terrorism and once again the world will enjoy the dividends of peace.

However, the victory over terrorism is likely to take quite some time.

Terrorism is a kind of political activity driven by oppression, failure, despair and hatred and will not be easily done away with.

Current American policy towards Egypt will only breed more hatred.

Egypt's democracy movement will make the Islamic world more independent and confident, and, because of this, play a more significant role in world politics.

Democratic Turkey has already begun to gradually loosen its ties with the West. However, the course of history never runs straight.

Will Turkey end up joining the Europe Union and become an inconsequential European country?

Alternatively, will it rekindle the dreams of the Ottoman Empire?

Despite years of effort, it has failed to join the European Union. So it's possible that it may choose to become a leader of a Turkish-language region that stretches from Turkey to Central Asia, rather than simply continuing to be a guard dog that protects Europe from Russia's influence.

Iran, whose official language is Persian, was once a great empire too and they haven’t forgotten their history.

With the Islamic Revolution of 1979, America “lost” Iran.

Then when America invaded Iraq, in an attempt to gain control of the Middle East, it also served to weaken a powerful enemy of Iran.

The Iranian people are trying to achieve more power through elections; the opposite parties are planning large demonstration in support of the Egyptian revolution.

America will eagerly welcome the democratization of Iranian, it may even play a direct role in pushing for democracy in Iran as the current Iranian leaders are not willing to serve America’s interest, indeed they are anti-American.

In fact, Iranian elections have more credibility than Egyptian elections ever had.

Even if the revolution succeeds, Egypt is unlikely to start treating Israel as an enemy.

Still, it also won’t be as pro-Israel or pro-America as the Mubarak regime has been, as this approach was not in Egypt's national interest.

That’s what worries America and makes Israel feel insecure.

On the one hand, there is no need for one country to oppose against another unless the former is directly threatened.

Anti-Americanism is normally only connected to the domestic situation in particular countries.  

Although it experienced several years of turmoil after the end of the Cold War, Indonesia has now managed to win favor from investors.

As the most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia may one day become a a dominant player in Southeast Asia and even compete with China as a source of cheap labor.

A vague trend is beginning to emerge, the Islamic world that has been divided for so long, now appears to be forming around several regional centers.

Western politicians might not view this as good news, but the democratization and peace of the Islamic world can only be beneficial to China.

Indeed, it's beneficial to both China and the rest of the world.

While analyzing this trend, we can’t ignore Pakistan. A strong and prosperous Pakistan is in China's national interest, and China must do more to help Pakistan.

But this is a difficult task: Pakistan has been going downhill for the past five years and the frequency of violence and terrorist attacks has increased.

The democracy process in Egypt is promoting some of the positive changes mentioned above.

However, because of America's support for Mubarak, it's possible that the democratic process may be strangled.
If so, people who are eager to see the protection of the rights of citizens and the renaissance of the Islamic world will simply have to wait for the next round of democratic protest.

That might not be too far away. Dictatorships rely on violence and lies, the biggest enemy of dictatorships is the free flow of truthful information.

This is an era of information.

A Steady Transition to Democracy

The Egypt revolt is the result of long term oppression of political rights.Dictatorships lack a pressure valve, they also lack the means to adjust themselves in response to circumstances.Because of this, social turmoil is inevitable, a product of a system in which one dictatorial leader is in charge.

In order to avoid social chaos, there needs to be a transition to a democratic system.But democracy cannot be built in a day.A democratic system is a complicated and needs to be carefully designed and implemented.

However, when the people have already stood up to oppose dictatorial oppression, by then it will already be too late for those few who hold on to political power to talk about social stability and a transition.At that time, it won't matter whether those who talk of stability are sincere or not, as their credibility will have inevitably been seriously weakened.The people of Tunisia and Egypt suffered oppression and exploitation for a long time, in the end, their suppressed rage suddenly exploded, leading to the uprising.

Such uprisings don’t simply pop up out of nowhere, nor will they abate if rulers simply allow for a few small compromise, this is especially true if the subjects no longer trust the ruler.

Therefore, any responsible non-democratic country - or more specifically those who hold power in these countries - cannot simply satisfy their people with economic growth, a more important task is to prepare a plan that gradually returns rights to voters.

As the masses are no longer easily fooled, the dictators that still currently hold power around the world are not likely to hold on to power for much longer.

Anyone who attempts to delay the return of power back to the people so that they can obtain even more individual benefits are committing a crime against the state and nation's future.

Any such attempt to delay the process is extremely likely to be disastrous.

Democracy is not Everything

In this world there are still a few democratic countries that are not very successful, although perhaps the reason for this has nothing to do with democracy.

But history has repeatedly shown that, of all the political systems, Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.

Though autocratic regimes may be successful for a while, the democratic system is the only path that leads to freedom and prosperity.

As democracy is a system in which everyone participates and it's not a system in which a minority rule, it’s therefore harder to betray the public.

But democracy is also fragile, as power is shared among different levels of government and also among voters.

Therefore, an effective democratic system will require not only the ballot box, but also the support of the rule of law, tolerance, cooperation, reason, supervision and many other factors.

It takes time for a country to transition to democracy, and the best time to start on the road to democracy is “now”.

Yes, now. Though the future of Tunisia and Egypt is still unclear, encouraged by their example, more countries will start to head down the path to democracy.

This article was edited by Paul Pennay

This article first appeared on the Economic Observer Online website on Thursday Feb 10, it was written before the announcement that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down as President of Egypt. A version of the article also appeared in the Observer section of the newspaper which was distributed on Saturday Feb 12 in various cities across China.

* In this section of the article the author cites two famous lyrical poems or Ci by a famous Chinese poet of the Northern Song Dynasty - Liu Yong. The original Chinese text says that President Obama will sing lines from two poems by the famous Chinese lyricist. For ease of translation, we've simply translated the paragraph according to the rough meaning, without attempting to elaborate on the deeper cultural references. For those who want to know more about Liu Yong, click here.