The United States might be partly to blame for recent revolts throughout the world, according to some Penn professors.
Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his post as president of Egypt on Feb. 11, igniting celebration in the streets of Cairo. The autocratic rule of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya is currently being protested by rebels amidst sanctions from the United Nations Security Council.
In Tunisia, street protests erupted in January against former president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country on Jan. 14.
Professors at Penn have offered various perspectives on the causes of these revolutions and what their global impact might be.
While some noted a global trend, others think the circumstances in each country are too distinct to group the revolutions together.
“Basically, I think the circumstances are different in each case, and I don’t really think there’s some sort of major groundswell going on everywhere,” said Roger Allen, chairman of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department.
“At the surface level there may be some connections, but there are a lot of things going on in each country,” he added.
Allen feels that many of these differences result from how the countries were colonized by western nations and the education of the populace — of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, only the latter was concerned about the education of its citizens since achieving independence.
Professor Ian Lustick, who teaches a class called “Politics in the Contemporary Middle East,” does recognize a global trend in the recent events.
In each case, mass discontent toward illegitimate states is accompanied by “a critical mass” of frustrated and well-networked young people and “police and security forces who are divided and underpaid,” Lustick wrote in an e-mail.
He added that these countries achieved stability through what political scientists refer to as the “Collective Action Problem,” which occurs when individuals are not willing to risk their lives for futile attempts to overthrow the government through protests.
However, Lustick feels that through the internet, the revolution in Tunisia inspired discontented citizens in Egypt and Libya to protest publicly in the streets and take effective collective action.
Lustick has made these recent events a “crucial focus” of his class, while Allen noted that he would do the same if current events were related to his subject material.
Both Allen and History professor Eve Powell believe that these revolutions were inevitable due to the way western powers have treated each country.
Allen criticized American foreign policy, which he described as feeling obligated to support the enemies of our designated enemies.
“That policy is obviously one that has to be reexamined,” Allen said. “On a long-term basis, I think we’ve got to try to get away from a foreign policy that is based on apparent expediency, rather than one that is actually based on our own sense of moral values.”
“If we believe in the principle of democracy, then you have to allow people to exercise their democracy,” he continued, noting that the U.S. must allow the winners of upcoming democratic elections to rule.
Allen attributed this policy to allowing the emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Hamas in Gaza, since the two opposed the Soviet Union and Yasser Arafat, respectively.
Powell shared a similar sentiment, calling the events in Egypt “An Inevitable Revolution” in a multimedia Q-and-A series posted on the College of Arts and Sciences website.Comments powered by Disqus
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