Thursday, February 10, 2011

Egypt, Iran: It Can't Happen Here?

This isn't a 'political' blog. Not in the sense that I cheer on one person or party - and jeer everybody else.

On the other hand, politics is sometimes involved in the war on terror - and I've got fairly well-defined ideas about what makes sense and what doesn't.

'Stability' isn't Everything

It's my opinion that it doesn't make sense to prop up a dictator who likes to call himself a "president" - and holds elections at intervals to support his claim. Not in the long run.

It's been done - America's support of Latin American dictators was a notorious point of contention about a half-century back. (As I recall, some of them were 'presidentes;' some were - in my view - a trifle more honest about their preferred title.)

I think I understand some of the motivation in those cases. It's comforting, if nothing else, to deal with a "stable" government. There may even be positive aspects to having one leader for a long time - as an alternative to 'presidente of the month' situations. I also don't think that the Cold War was a capitalist plot: and that's another topic.

In the short run, supporting those 'banana republics' may have been expedient.

In the long run, I think the policy was a mistake. A reputation for supporting petty dictators - and calling it 'defending democracy' - did little to bolster support for America among adolescents and young adults who were already dubious about 'the American dream.'

That was then. This is now.

Mubarak's Egypt is a "stable" country. Or was, until a few weeks ago.

Hosni Mubarak, by the way, has been president of Egypt since he got the job on October 14, 1981. (Egypt, World Factbook, CIA (last updated February 1, 2011)) Maybe he's holding out for an even thirty-year reign. Presidency. Whatever.

The Best Form of Government - is One that Works

I've discussed my views of autocracy and other ways folks have developed to manage themselves in another blog. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (February 5, 2011) Briefly, I think that an autocracy - one person, or a small group, making all the decisions for a country - could work. In theory. In practice, autocrats don't seem to have a particularly good record for running their domains sensibly.

An advantage I see in the system America has is that, in theory at any rate, a proposed course of action gets discussed by so many folks that their individual quirks tend to cancel each other out - leaving something that has a modest chance of not doing too much damage.

There are more upbeat ways of expressing that idea.

Even Autocrats Should Listen to Complaints

President Mubarak and his buddies don't, apparently, like being criticized. Not many people do, I should think.

But most of us aren't able to make folks who disagree with us disappear or die. Mubarak's outfit seems have a 'zero tolerance' approach to criticism.

If they'd been doing a perfect job of running Egypt for the past three (almost) decades, most Egyptians might be willing to put up with the occasional missing relative.

'A chicken in every pot and Uncle Benny in prison' might not make it as a political slogan here in America: but I think folks are willing to put up with quite a bit as long as the system is modestly functional.

From the looks of things, Egypt isn't enjoying boom times just now. Maybe it's not Mubarak's doing: I don't know. This doesn't seem to be the best epoch, economically, in quite a few places.
If it seems that I concentrated rather heavily on the United States in those 'economic' posts - you're right. That's the country I live in: and it's one of the major players, globally. Moving on.

The point is that Egypt, along with other parts of the world, seems to be going through economic hard times. Folks tend, I think, to get a trifle edgy when money's tight. Add that to a regime that's been making friends and relatives die or disappear for decades - and "edgy" could easily turn into "angry." In my opinion.

If only for the sake of good public relations: I think Mubarak and company would have been well-advised to make it look like they were willing to listen to complaints.

Hello, Information Age: Goodbye 'Orderly' Countries

I remember the 'good old days,' when most Americans relied on a few news editors, media executives, and publishers to tell them about what happened outside their circle of friends and acquaintances. Because we didn't have many other options.

From one point of view, it was a nice, orderly situation: Americans watched whatever was on the three major networks, plus PBS; and read whatever news editors and publishers decided was fit to print.

Things aren't quite so 'orderly' these days.

I haven't heard "divisive" used all that much lately - but I think it's a pretty good way of describing information that hasn't been approved by 'the right sort.' I also think that "divisive" isn't necessarily "bad." I've discussed this sort of thing before:

Change Hurts

I think many of the old-school information gatekeepers sincerely thought they were supporting 'freedom of speech' by deciding what the rest of us saw, heard, and read. However valid that assumption is, the America of my youth didn't last.

We got, in fairly rapid succession, and not necessarily in this order:
  • International direct-dial calling
  • Transatlantic real-time television broadcasts
  • Fax machines
  • Twitter
    • And a plethora of other online communities
Americans still, I think, rely on a few news editors, media executives, and publishers to tell them about what happened outside their circle of friends and acquaintances.

But now our 'circle of friends and acquaintances' can easily include folks all over the world.

For me, and others who don't mind finding out what someone besides old-school journalists and established authorities think: the Information Age is a great time to be alive.

The folks who used to have more control over what 'the masses' were allowed to know? I suspect they aren't quite so thrilled.

Which is, I think, part of why we're seeing recurring efforts to 'protect' us from the big, bad Internet. I think many - maybe most - folks who want to keep us from reading 'bad' things online sincerely feel that they're doing the right thing.

I also think that trying to control what others are allowed to learn is not a good idea - with a few exceptions. As I said when I started writing today's posts: it's not simple.

More of today's posts:
Related posts:
More:

2 comments:

DeanO said...

Oh yes indeed - it can happen here in America and I won't be surprised in the least when it does.

Brian Gill said...

DeanO,

I prefer to think "if," rather than "when." America is a more diverse than it was a half-century back. And even then we weren't quite as monochrome-conformist as some would have liked.

Online communication - and the social structures it makes possible - have, I think, a great deal of promise.

Not that I think things are - or will be - perfect.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, by the way.

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Blogroll

Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.