- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Egypt looms largely in the Christian psyche. Many Christians, in their heart of hearts, associate Egypt today with the Egypt of biblical times: a bastion of corruption, idolatry and enslavement of Israelis, God’s chosen people. Some American Christians, many of them who consider themselves spiritual heirs to Israel, call upon this scriptural reference when asserting the legitimacy of Israel and supporting an American foreign policy in the Middle East that favors Israeli interests above those of Arab nations.

But this thinking is misguided in a couple of respects. The Egypt and Israel of today have almost nothing in common with their biblical analogs. Egypt, despite its long-serving dictator Hosni Mubarak, is a modern nation with a capitalist economy and a relatively educated population. Although an overwhelmingly Muslim country, it has played a moderating role in the Middle East. It is home to a sizable population of Christians and Jews, who practice their religions in relative freedom. This is no Egypt of the pharaohs.

Israel is not the land of the Hebrews. This is not the same people who, by divine intervention, narrowly escaped the Egyptian empire and suffered in the desert for years. Modern Israel was created by Europe and the U.S., which, after the atrocities of World War II, acceded to Jewish demands for a separate homeland where they would never again be persecuted. Most Israelis today are of European stock and many centuries removed from their origins in biblical Israel.

Understanding the modern implications of these two countries is a key to developing a way forward in Egypt and the other Arab states undergoing rapid social change. First, Muslims and Jews are not inherently antagonistic toward each other. Most of the modern conflict stems from the creation of Israel as a colonial state in 1948 and the displacement of its Arab inhabitants.

Before then, Muslims, Jews and Christians coexisted in relative peace in the region. In fact, in Islam’s earliest days, Jewish traders and religious leaders were Muhammad’s closest allies against a corrupt Arab tribal system. Jewish merchants provided safe haven to Islam’s prophet in Medina, where he and his followers fled after being chased out of Mecca. Muhammad also found safe haven among the Christians of Ethiopia. And it is obvious enough that the Muslim religion draws heavily upon Judaism and Christianity.

The second principle that points a way forward is that the quest for self-determination among the people of the Arab world is rooted neither in Muslim extremism nor anti-Israeli sentiment. The popular uprisings of recent weeks are homegrown reactions to the oppression everyday people have suffered from successive governments going all the way back to the Ottoman Empire. They are an indication that theocracies do not fit today’s world.

The demonstrations show the growing political maturity in the Arab world. With a relatively young population, they have access to the West through television and social media. They are eager to join the rest of the world and admire American prosperity. The regimes in much of the Arab world are holdovers from a bygone era. They came to power at a time in which the West was concerned about Soviet expansionism and Israel was concerned about Islamic extremism. But these people — the people of the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia and the popular uprising boiling over in Egypt — are not those people.

Third, it is inconsistent with Christian ideals and values for the U.S. to cynically bolster political regimes in the Arab world that deny their people the basic freedoms that we almost take for granted in the West. One of our greatest leaders, Abraham Lincoln, famously said, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.”

Our continued freedom is dependent upon fulfilling our moral duty to fight for Arab people’s freedom. There are risks to taking a principled stand. As we know from our own Revolutionary War, many people were afraid that radical elements within the American society would upset the established British order. Not all Colonial citizens supported the acts of the Constitutional Convention, and certainly the American nation that emerged was not without its flaws. There was and remains a crack in the Liberty Bell.

Unlike Egypt, however, the U.S. was blessed with the opportunity to grow and mature in “splendid isolation.” We enjoyed an abundant land and a wide sea separating us from the political intrigue and factiousness of Europe and Asia. We had time to develop our nation — time that Egypt and the Arab world unfortunately may not have. The world is so interconnected that nascent democracies will be instantly burdened with the demands placed on mature nations. This is not yesterday’s American Revolution.

Even as the righteous demands for self-government emerge in the shrill screams of the oppressed Arab masses, the world is coldly assessing the geopolitical implications of true freedom. Will these movements be co-opted by radical Islamic groups? Will free and democratic Arab countries raise oil prices? Will they succumb again to a different set of corrupt dictators? Many leaders and pundits give lip service to their support for the popular uprising, but one wonders whether a different story is being sold behind the scenes.

As a democratic and largely Christian nation, the U.S. should never be afraid of freedom’s emergence. Surely, an Egyptian democracy will differ from America’s. Egypt is a Muslim country in Africa with its own history and traditions. It is only natural that its form of government will take on characteristics unique to its culture and history. We should applaud and celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of this nascent democracy. After all, its people have proved that they are willing to pay the price. In a world in which the struggle for liberty often carries with it the certainty of death, they chose liberty.

Armstrong Williams is on Sirius/XM Power 169, 7 to 8 p.m. and 4 to 5 a.m., Mondays through Fridays. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ and follow him on Twitter arightside@www.twitter.com/arightside.