For those of you who have been reading the news lately, things have gotten a little crazy over in the Middle East as of late. Starting in December of last year, Tunisia had a little uprising, one that ended badly for then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a vaguely creepy-looking head of a corrupt authoritarian government. Ben Ali had been funneling money to his extended family and spending huge quantities on his and their pleasures as the rest of the country foundered (similar to what Louis XVI pulled back in the French Revolution).
This uprising (and overthrowing) in Tunisia was fairly alarming to other Arab leaders, as many of them led similar autocratic governments. And lo and behold, Egypt is foundering in political turmoil and civil unrest. The protests have spread not only to Egypt, but to Jordan and Yemen as well. Throw in the collapse of the Lebanese government, and you have a pretty big explosion waiting to happen.
Now, the way I see it, there’s two ways to look at this. The first might be a bit stupidly optimistic (and I consider myself something of a master of stupid optimism), but here goes. The governments in many of these countries are notorious for their authoritarian rule. The country on everyone’s mind right now is Egypt, so I’ll focus on them for a bit. The president of Egypt, a guy by the name of Hosni Mubarak, has been in power in Egypt for 30 years. Even if the Egyptian people had the option to elect someone else, 30 years is an egregious amount of time for one person to remain in power without the option of ousting said leader. So you could look at these protests in that way: An eruption of anti-autocratic sentiment, when the oppressed people rise up against the oppressors and break their chains.
Like I said, that’s the stupidly optimistic view. The other, more realistic view is of course more complicated. Egypt has always acted as one of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East, a region full of pies that America has dug its fingers into. While one can hardly say that Mubarak’s police state is humane or “American,” we risk losing a firm foothold in that part of the world. There’s a lot of uncertainty in these protests. People want Mubarak out, but it would seem there’s not much of a plan for a replacement (though I’m sure many people will present themselves as candidates). Chances are that if the government were to be replaced (and Mubarak with it), America would stand to lose a lot. But who knows? Maybe it’s about time we do.