Editorial: Americans can learn a lesson from Egypt

by Elizabeth DeLyser, Copy Editor

For the past several weeks, Cairo, Egypt has swarmed with chaos and turmoil with protesters calling for the resignation of the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Egypt has been in a state of national emergency since 1981, which legalizes censorship, extends police powers, suspends constitutional rights, and permits the government to seize and jail people without reason for as long as desired. The protesters have also focused on police brutality, emergency laws, low minimum wages, unemployment, and corruption. Egypt and its uprising has been dominating the news since late January, and nearly everyone knows at least something about what is going on.

Other Arab countries are also in protest, however, and one has even overthrown its government. Protests began in Tunisia when a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi,burned himself alive to protest police corruption and his ill-treatment by a municipal official. Riots over unemployment, corruption, freedom of speech, and poor living conditions led to over 219 deaths and the resignation of the nation’s president, who fled the country to Saudi Arabia for safety. Jordan’s government has also been sacked and is being reformed, and Algeria and Yemen are also host to major national protests. Even England had recent protests, as in December, university students violently protested a proposed plan by the government to raise their tuition fees from $4,700 to $14,000 per year.

These people are protesting their government taking away their rights. Whether it is free speech, a free election, a free education or a job, these people are politically involved and motivated enough that when their elected officials forget that their power comes from the people, they take to the streets to forcibly make sure their voices are heard.

What if the same circumstances happened in America?

Unemployment is 9.8% in the United States right now, and political bickering in Congress ensures that little to nothing gets done. The Patriot Act resulted in the suspension of constitutional rights, and 20% of the country’s population currently holds 85% of the country’s wealth. Millions of Americans are deep in debt, thousands have no jobs, and everyone thinks that something needs to change.

While I doubt the situation is dire enough right now, I sincerely hope that if the American government becomes too corrupt, too hopelessly entangled, and too out-of-touch with the American people, that the citizens of America too would take to the streets and protest their government. The declaration of independence asserts this need, reading: “When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them… it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The Founding Fathers even made sure that the citizens of the United States would be well-equipped should such a day occur, giving us the means to defend ourselves against a run-amok government through the 2nd Amendment.

And yet, it is all too easy to picture Americans just complaining about the state of things from our homes, watching the talking heads on TV bicker back and forth about who’s to blame for today’s problems. America has become lazy, and it’s easy to just let the other people around work for change.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “A government afraid of its citizens is a Democracy. Citizens afraid of government is tyranny!” America’s government isn’t afraid of its citizens – it’s citizens are too busy working a 9-5 job for a corporate master and watching American Idol to get up and do something. Americans are too busy sleeping through their lives, counting on the fact that “someone else” will fix things.

America, we need to wake up.

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