We All Helped Suppress the Egyptians. So How Do We Change?

Johann Hari over at his blog:

The great Czech dissident Vaclav Havel outlined the “as if principle”. He said people trapped under a dictatorship need to act “as if they are free.” They need to act as if the dictator has no power over them. They need to act as if they have their human rights. Havel rode that principle to the death of Soviet tyranny and to the Presidential Palace of a free society.

The Egyptians are trying the same – and however many of them Mubarak murders on his way out the door, the direction in which fear flows has been successfully reversed. The tyrant has become terrified of “his” people – and dictators everywhere are watching the live-feed from Liberation Square pale-faced and panicked.

Of course, there is a danger that what follows will be worse. My family lived for a time under the torturing tyranny of the Shah of Iran, and cheered the revolution in 1979 – yet he was replaced by the even more vicious Ayatollahs. But this is not the only model, nor the most likely. The events in Egypt look more like the Indonesian revolution, where in 1998 a popular uprising toppled a US-backed, US-armed tyrant after 32 years of oppression – and went on to build the largest and most plural democracy in the Muslim world.

But the discussion here in the West should focus on the factor we are responsible for and we can influence – the role our governments have played in suppressing the Egyptian people. Your taxes have been used to arm, fund and fuel this dictatorship. You have unwittingly helped to keep these people down. The tear gas canisters fired at pro-democracy protesters have ‘Made in America’ stamped on them, with British machine guns and grenade launchers held in the background.

Very few British people would praise a murderer and sell him weapons. Very few British people would beat up a poor person in order to get cheaper petrol. But our governments do this abroad all the time. Of the three worst human rights abusers in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran – two are our governments’ closest friends, showered with money, arms and praise. Why?