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The transformational power of liberty

Posted by Richard on February 2, 2011

First, Tunisia. Now, Egypt. And other Middle East autocrats have taken notice. The "transformational power of liberty" is on the move in the Middle East:

Once invincible, a Mideast autocrat is close to finished. Egypt's longtime President Hosni Mubarak is fading fast after a week of inspired street protests. And the shock waves are spreading out as his rule weakens.

The 82-year-old leader now is offering not to run for re-election later this year. It's a too-little, too-late gesture to mollify masses of Egyptians who are demanding that he depart and give new leadership a chance.

Underscoring Mubarak's final moments is another reality: His longtime ally, the United States, is giving a firm shove after initial hestitation. "We hear your voices," President Obama said in a Tuesday message to the demonstrators. The transition "must begin now," he added.

It's an earthshaking moment for the Mideast. The region's biggest country, viewed as one of the most stable, is on the brink of democratic change. And it was created by widespread, homegrown protests, not a bloody coup or outside force.

First came the demise of Tunisia's corrupt government, an act that touched off a similar surge in Egypt that Mubarak was unable to quell. One telling moment was an assurance from the independent-minded military that it would not use force against citizens taking to the streets.

The looming downfall of Mubarak could send reverberations throughout the Mideast. Jordan's King Hussein raced to get in front of similar protests in his country by firing his Cabinet. Other leaders might scramble to stay in power as the Mideast glimpses a chance for democracy. A turning point is at hand.

I blame Bush. This is from an October 2005 post, "The one thing Bush gets right":

Bush spoke at length about the fifth point, and his commitment to "the transformational power of liberty" remains solid. He singled out Egypt and Saudi Arabia as "friends" whom we're encouraging to reform and to "respect the rights and choices of their own people." He pointedly added:  

… We're standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes, because we know that the dissidents of today will be the democratic leaders of tomorrow. We're making our case through public diplomacy, stating clearly and confidently our belief in self-determination, and the rule of law, and religious freedom, and equal rights for women, beliefs that are right and true in every land, and in every culture.

Bush closed, as he so often does, with a restatement of his commitment to and confidence in liberty:

Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision — and they end up alienating decent people across the globe. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that regimented societies are strong and pure — until those societies collapse in corruption and decay. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that free men and women are weak and decadent — until the day that free men and women defeat them.

We don't know the course of our own struggle — the course our own struggle will take — or the sacrifices that might lie ahead. We do know, however, that the defense of freedom is worth our sacrifice. We do know the love of freedom is the mightiest force of history. And we do know the cause of freedom will once again prevail.

I also blame Natan Sharansky (as channeled by Bush). Also Condi and her 2005 speech in Cairo. And Tony Blair.

I'm optimistic and hopeful about the wave of transformational liberty sweeping across the Middle East. Arab Muslims have a strong yearning for democracy. Yes, there's a danger that radical Islamists will gain power in democratic elections. But as I noted years ago regarding Iraq, even such an outcome would be a short-lived victory for radical Islam:

It's a crucial idea that the Islamofascists seem to understand clearly, but the critics and pessimists just don't get: once the vast majority of the people buy into the concept of democratic government — even a Sharia-based or Shia-dominated democratic government — the reactionary theology of the Islamofascists has already lost. Their version of Islam can't tolerate people choosing, period — even if you make the "right" choice, the very idea that it's up to you to decide between competing ideas undermines their entire belief system and will eventually destroy it. 

Years ago, I argued that the Bush Doctrine is a long shot, but it's the best option we have. Now, it just may be working. Best wishes to the freedom-loving people of Egypt, Tunisia, and the other autocratic nations of that region.

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