COLUMN: Revolution in Egypt could have far-reaching impact

Monday, February 14, 2011 | 11:53 a.m. CST; updated 9:30 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I will admit: I’m a hopeless news junkie.

The night of the vote on health care reform, my friends gathered around the television to watch “A Knight’s Tale,” and I sneaked into the next room to watch the tally of votes on C-SPAN. While covering election season in Columbia last spring, I found it difficult to find topics of conversation with my fellow students because I was so absorbed in the day-to-day updates on the races.

And since the protests began in Egypt, I’ve spent my moments alone watching Al-Jazeera and CNN and reading The Washington Post and The New York Times. I remained glued to the screen all day Friday, watching Egyptians celebrating in Tahrir Square over the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. But, constantly, I find myself separated from those around me who just aren’t that interested.

Some just don’t care about the news. Some feel the need to pay attention to stay informed, but they react to events the way they might react to hearing about the 1786 Constitutional Convention (apparently other people don’t find it as exciting as I do). And I find myself wondering why so many people feel disconnected from the news — a question that could define my very existence as a journalist.

Does the news just not do a good enough job of telling us how events affect our lives? Caught up in reporting the news updates in Egypt, do journalists forget that we need to know why we should care? Or is the impact on most of our lives so minimal that we don’t need to care?

I refuse to believe it’s the latter.

Here’s why: The United States spent almost $1 trillion in fiscal 2010 on defense spending according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. A large chunk of that was spent in the Middle East — the very region in which these events are taking place. Spending cuts, the deficit and taxes are the most frequently discussed topics in the political arena, and defense spending is a huge reason why we don’t have as much money.

We’re fighting for many things in Afghanistan (and to an extent still, Iraq), and I wouldn’t presume to know all of them. But one of the government’s selling points on sending our fellow citizens, friends and family overseas to fight, and perhaps die, is democracy. We are apparently attempting to give a voice to people in two countries — people who have been silenced for too long.

I’ve heard doubts about whether a democracy can truly survive in a country with a Muslim majority, and I’ve heard worries that the U.S.’s hope for these countries might never be realized. What if democracy isn’t what the Iraqis or the Afghans want? They didn’t ask for us to remove their government.

Egyptians, however, want this. Not what the U.S. wants, per se, but they seem to want democracy. They rejected the policies of their government, protested peacefully and removed their government on their own. And all they appear to be asking is to be heard.

Keep in mind, 90 percent of Egyptians identify as Muslim, according to the 2010 CIA World Factbook.

If the process goes well in Egypt — admittedly, there is an ever-growing list of things that could easily go wrong — we might just see what happens when a Muslim-majority country runs its own democracy without the guiding hand of the U.S.

This would provide an example of what “freedom” could look like in that region. Other countries might follow suit. Or, we might take a few pointers to further help Iraq and Afghanistan develop their own governments. Obviously, each country is unique, but this case study is one we should be happy to have.

The Middle East seems to plague our lives because of terrorism and money. And think about it: Those two abstract concepts are this country’s two biggest concerns. If Middle Eastern countries developed democracy in their own way, they might begin to improve in areas like education, which would lower the ability of groups like al-Qaida to convince young men and women to strap bombs to themselves. They wouldn’t need our military or as much of our foreign aid.

Egyptians showed that if the People (with a capital “p” for grandiosity) want to, they can make their voices be heard. And if other people in that region decide they want to be heard too, they might just follow suit without needing the U.S. to step in and oust their governments. They could create a democracy on their own terms and not resent America for forcing a system of government upon them.

Egypt is blazing a trail to a world we all would like to see.

By this point, you’re probably thinking that I’m naïve to expect so much from one (well, two, if you count Tunisia) country’s revolution. And I know things won’t go smoothly for them. But if there’s even a chance that the Egyptians could create a government in which they participate and speak freely, there will be a free, non-Western country that people in the Middle East can look at with pride and admiration. And that’s a step.

So if Egypt seems too far away to care about, just remember: It isn’t so far from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Victoria Guida is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism and political science with an emphasis in international relations. She is covering the UM System administration this semester for the Missourian. She is an avid consumer of international news and wrote a story on Egypt last week.

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Paul Allaire February 14, 2011 | 1:46 p.m.

Don't worry, the huddled masses WILL get their opinions when they are given to them. Now, it's a real shame those pesky Egyptians weren't able to keep theirs in line like we do here. But hey, it's unfair to compare anyone with the greatest nation on earth. Dictators would do well by investing heavily in sports facilities and subsidizing the distribution of alcohol.

P.S. I'm so elated that the Egyptian army has now assumed control of the pesky protesters and the remainder of the population. Military governments have always been the benchmark of democracy.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks February 14, 2011 | 9:23 p.m.

I think they would be much better off shooting for a Republic instead of a Democracy. At least then they would have 200 years of control before the corruption really takes hold and they have to start over.

Personally I like that the people over there stuck to there guns and got what they wanted but sometimes you need to be careful. You might not get what you wished for.

I do find it odd that our representative the President is so happy for the people over there but when groups gather in this country he pretends like he has not heard anything about it.

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