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Being The Change

February 11th, 2011 by Alison · No Comments · politics, spirituality & religion

What does President Mubarak’s regime in Egypt and the Catholic church have in common? Autocracy, oppression of women, the habit of abusing those under their care, and enormous resistance to change.

What are the solutions to those problems? I’d say it’s the willingness of average citizens to disrupt their lives by working for change. The hundreds of thousands of Egyptians thronging Tahrir Square for 17 days now are making sacrifices, sustaining injuries, losing wages they can ill afford as they seek, in Gandhi’s phrase, to be the change.

I admit my comparison is simplistic. The Catholic church has done great good in the world, particularly serving the poor, and is not defined only by priests sexually abusing children. But autocracies – which the Catholic church and many corrupt governments are – lack accountability by their very definition, because they answer to nobody but themselves. Lack of accountability is a breeding ground for brutality. People’s chances for dignity and a decent quality of life, let alone happiness, are badly compromised under autocracies, whether religious or political.

As I write, the New York Times front headline has suddenly changed, to report that Mubarak appears to have left Egypt, and may finally be relinquishing power. Yesterday, the front page featured a former Catholic urging her fellows to defect from the church due to its corruption and abuses. I respect her path. I also respect the path of those who remain within corrupt institutions, determined to reform them. Over time, change is inevitable. But it can cost a great deal, as many Egyptian citizens are experiencing.

There is no guarantee of how the Egyptian revolution will turn out.  But autocracy (in this case, Mubarak’s regime)  is the best guarantor of  eventual rebellion, and democracy is the best guarantor of stability. Those words are from the British magazine The Economist, and while I don’t always agree with The Economist on a lot (I think their hyperfocus on economics is narrow and reductionistic), I agree with them on that.

My final thought is to reflect ruefully that the free West, especially the United States which was founded on a revolution which we proudly celebrate every 4th of July, has long propped up not just President Mubarak’s autocracy, but the brutal governments of many other nations, on the basis of  dictators’  ‘friendliness’ to our own countries. It’s a hollow freedom and a hollow democracy when we block other citizens of the world from the democracy-based quality of life that we enjoy in the U.S.

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