In the heat of protest, the heavy weight of demand overrides reality. The incongruity of wants and desires outweigh what is within the realm of possibility. The whole event becomes more about the amount of protesters and signs than it does about who the protesters are, or what the signs say.
In Egypt, the medium — to invoke philosopher Marshall McLuhan — has become the message. The outside world — along with its mainstream media — has tried to align its own voice with that of the collective “protesters” in Egypt. And there lies the problem.
The booming voices of world leaders and media personalities call for us to do the “right” thing — the thing that is (or seems) most just, most righteous, or most revolutionary. But what happens when the “right” thing to do is not the pragmatic thing to do? Or when the sundry “right” choices contradict each other? We’re left with a paradox.
We want free elections, but we don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power. We want democracy, but we don’t want Mubarak to be voted out of office — we want him out now. We want civil democracy, but we also want to support the hoards of radical protesters who have, in essence, put Egypt’s day-to-day life on hold. It seems that the line between democracy and vigilante ousting is a fine one.
Is it up to the proverbial “we” to decide, though? Last time the United States chose to take out a foreign autocrat, we were left with two wars and six thousand fewer Americans. We do have responsibilities: to advocate for the silenced people of Egypt and other oppressed peoples around the world, to voice our own opinions about democracy and freedom, and certainly to be an international watchdog. That being said, it is not our place to aid in vigilante justice.
We want to act as the means. But to what end? If democracy blankets Egypt, free elections will be held; and it’s likely that the decidedly “wrong,” more oppressive party would take over — and there goes democracy. If the United States or the western world involves itself in the minutia of Egypt’s transition, then Egypt’s so-called “freedom” will be regulated by and dependent upon an entirely separate entity — and there goes democracy. If free elections are held, but the UN oversees them, and the “wrong” party wins election, then the UN — a body who has never been known to do anything immoral, right? — may affect the results — and there goes democracy.
While the world celebrates and excites over new beginnings and clean slates, I worry. At this point in a piece, I usually offer a solution to the problem I’m discussing. Today, I don’t have one. It’s a paradox, a fine line to tread, and a unstable question to which there is no definitive answer.