With populations in Egypt and Jordan and Yemen and Sudan all following Tunisia in rising up against dictatorial leadership, Western governments face a challenge to their stated principles. Democracy and self-determination are easy words to say. The harder part is accepting and supporting the results when they don’t go the way you’d hoped. Hamas’ victory over Fatah in the 2006 elections in Palestine, and Israel and the U.S. and the E.U.’s subsequent refusal to recognize the so-called terrorist organization’s right to govern, is a good example of bad hypocrisy.
Faced with the overthrow of longtime ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, folks like Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many political commentators here in the States (most laughably, and also most depressingly, Glenn Beck) have been stoking the greatly counterproductive fear that the Islamist opposition party the Muslim Brotherhood will rise in power. It will, it seems. And, yes, religious extremism in government is problematic. The more voice a secular moderate like Muhammad ElBaradei might have in a future Egypt, the better. But it’s a democratic country’s obligation to accept the results of democratic elections elsewhere—and to talk to the governments of other countries in the world despite disagreements we might have. The futility of the freeze-out silent treatment is on vivid display in the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran. This was a debate President Obama won in the 2008 presidential race over both Hilary Clinton and John McCain—both of whom espoused a more hard-line approach to diplomacy. He should more aggressively enact the policy in governing.
Great damage has been done by many years of the West's support of totalitarian regimes in exchange for their compliance with our wishes. (And, yes, this is the way geopolitics works: Countries work in their self-interest.) We have contributed to the rage we’re now seeing on Middle Eastern streets. We’re in a hole we’ve dug ourselves, for sure. But the worst thing to do is to keep digging. As these regimes fall, our only choice is to support democratic revolution as best we can. Wherever it happens, we have to allow for as true a democratic process of electing new governments as can possibly be achieved, accept the results whatever they are, extend a hand, and hope for the best.
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