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What Can Americans Learn From Egypt

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Bob Burnett       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   5 comments

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As the world watched, millions of Egyptians engaged in an eighteen-day democratic revolution.  For those of us fortunate enough to live in the United States, there are five lessons to be learned from the insurrection in Egypt.

 

Democracy remains the world's most precious commodity .   The Egyptian revolution was a spontaneous uprising of millions of ordinary people yearning for democracy; a movement no doubt inspired by US history.  We should take pride in the fact that America has become a beacon of light to billions throughout the world who yearn for freedoms that many of us take for granted.

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Nonetheless, we should remember that democracy is hard work.  Winton Churchill famously observed, " No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."   The struggles of the Egyptian people remind us how precious US democracy is, how fortunate we are to live in America, and the reality that an effective civil society requires our active involvement.

 

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It helps to have a job .   While the Egyptian revolution involved specific political complaints, such as the lifting of martial law, there was a significant economic component.  The Egyptians who took to the streets yearned for opportunity as well as freedom; they wanted a better life for themselves and their families.  Under dictator Mubharak, many Egyptians, particularly young people felt they were trapped in a dead-end existence.  Unemployment was high (more than 10 percent) and most educated young Egyptians who could not find meaningful work.

 

The insurrection should remind Americans that a vital democracy also provides economic opportunity.  In addition to the right of free speech and assembly, and the other civil rights that we hold dear, there are important economic rights the US needs to pay more attention to: the right to hold a decent job paying a living wage, to work in a safe environment, and to organize and join unions; as well as  the right to adequate education, housing, and healthcare.

 

The new technology has reshaped the face of protest .   A lot of attention has been paid to the key role of Facebook in the Egyptian revolution, but in general the eighteen-day protest demonstrated that, over the past thirty years, developments in information technology -- the Internet, satellite TV, and mobile phones -- have made the world a global community and thereby facilitated democratic protest.

 

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At an early stage of the Egyptian revolution, the Mubharak government tried to snuff dissent by turning off the Internet, restricting cell phone traffic, and beating up foreign journalists. The fact that this didn't work is a testimony to the bravery of the protestors and reporters, and the robustness of the new media.  (By the way, shutting down the Internet turned off Facebook but had the side affect of blocking most forms of Egyptian commerce.)

 

The free-flow of communication is a precursor to democracy.  The new technology not only makes global communication easier, but also protest.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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