, treading the path of civil rights Egypt
By David A. Super
February 14, 2011
These opportunities come once in a generation, social movements whose cause is so manifestly just, and whose potential is so transformative, that they rise above the clutter of ordinary politics. The civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and others inspired a generation as it overcame Klansmen, brutal sheriffs and growers' thugs. Two decades later, we watched in awe as the brave people of
These movements have a palpable continuity. The civil rights movement refuted Soviet propaganda that free societies are incapable of social justice. Likewise, the people of
The contrast between Egyptians' jubilation over President Hosni Mubarak's departure and the trepidations expressed in the
Opponents of each movement similarly dismissed them with prejudice posing as sophistication. Supposed sober heads painted African-Americans and farmworkers as cheerful simpletons content in their exploitation, rising up only because of nefarious "outside agitators." These same kinds of assumptions led some to see farmworkers as puppets of "activist priests" and others to question whether Eastern Europeans were capable of maintaining stable democracies.
Today, we hear eerily similar warnings about Arabs' supposed need for an iron fist to stave off chaos. And today's experts insist that the overwhelmingly secular democracy movement is a mere tool of
Just as the Polish resistance sought safety in the shadow of Catholic churches,
Some crassly opposed the farmworkers because higher wages might increase food prices. So, too, some would sacrifice Egyptians to a brutal dictatorship to protect
Growers hired thugs to assault peaceful farmworkers and then sought injunctions against picketing to "restore order." Similarly, the Egyptian regime that claims it is indispensable to maintaining order withdrew the police from neighborhoods and sent them to brutalize peaceful protesters, freed masses of common criminals while arresting journalists, and sponsored mobs throwing firebombs near the Egyptian Museum's priceless antiquities. It converted that museum into a Mukhabarat torture center.
The Egyptian regime showed itself to be composed of bullies, and bullies do not respond to gentle persuasion, especially when they believe the words mask weakness. Gov. Orval Faubus of
President George H.W. Bush urged Iraqi Shiites to rise up for freedom and then stood by as Saddam Hussein slaughtered them. President Bill Clinton ignored pleas from pro-Western Bosnian democrats until massive ethnic cleansing had discredited them. President George W. Bush launched a Middle Eastern "freedom agenda," then abandoned the activists who came forward in response. President Barack Obama's bold 2009 address at
Redeeming that speech's promise, and restoring our credibility with the most important freedom movement of our time, requires unusually public and direct action. The administration must speak with a new clarity in insisting on a broad-based transitional government and dismantlement of the emergency laws that gave the secret police free reign. Doing any less would squander our moral capital, vindicate our most cynical detractors and discredit our civil rights movement's worthy successors. It would waste a rare, remarkable opportunity to advance our interests and our values at once.
David A. Super is professor of law at the
Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs