Forum reveals Middle East protests rooted in desire for democracy

Nagla Anees (second from left) makes a point as Dr. Benno Wymar, Dr. Musheera Anis and Achala Sebit Moi look on at an international forum on the "Arab Spring." The forum took place Monday morning in the Muenster University Center. (Photo by David Lias)

It will take time for now-protesting nations in the Middle East to transition to a democratic form of government. However, aiding in that transition is the goal of many of the people who live in those countries.

This was one of several opinions voiced during the regular International Forum, which was held at the Muenster University Center on the campus of the University of South Dakota Monday morning.

"It's a transitional period, and changing decades of oppression is not going to happen overnight," said native Egyptian Nagla Anees. "We have to give it time, and we have to believe that standing against injustice is the right answer and supporting democracy is the way to go."

Dr. Musheera Anis also comes from Egypt and teaches Arabic at USD. She said she has been approached by many people who express concern that rather than become a democratic nation, Egypt will fall into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Anis pointed out that although Egypt has been without an official government for the past eight months, this has not happened – despite warnings of such an occurrence by former President Hosni Mubarak.

"After the revolution it seems that … people are really interested in the politics of the Brotherhood," Anis said. "They want the real political change, and the Brotherhood is kind of a dogmatic, has the same issues the Mubarek regime had.

"People are not tolerating that. They do not want these autocratic people telling us what to do. … We are the people, and we are telling (the officials) what to do," she said.

Anis added that while propagandists have said Islamists have been bombing churches and embassies in Egypt, this has not been the case.

"There is not one case of bombing in the previous eight months in Egypt," she said. "Not one church was attacked. Not one mosque was attacked."

Media coverage was an ongoing problem in many of these nations before the protests began.

"Even though you have the illusion of diversity with some media outlets, they just represented the regime," Anees said. "Everyone knew they were just a mouthpiece for the system. We're talking about the print media, the television, the radio, everything.

"It was very interesting to see the transformation of some of these people who worked for years in the media, when all of a sudden, (reporters were) like, 'The revolution is great!'" she said.

Other troubled nations – such as Bahrain – receive biased or lax news coverage out of fear of antagonizing existing monarchies, Anees said.

"Bahrain is a very small country, and I think people are hoping (the problem) will just go away, which is ridiculous," she said. "The people have legitimate demands and deserve to be represented in their government. But the fact that there are problems in Bahrain and Yemen is a complete disaster for Saudi Arabia, because these are bordering countries, and if these countries were to succeed in their revolutions … it's a big deal for the monarchy in Saudi Arabia because they're pretty much stuck."

Anis agreed, adding, "Monarchies are really hard for people to talk against because of the emotional involvement they have with their monarchies and how old these monarchies are. So, they have real deep respect for their kings and princes."

The United States has a role to play in the struggle of these nations, Anees said.

"I think the best role America can have is to continue to be a beacon of democracy – not only just to talk the talk, but to walk the walk," she said. "Because a lot of times, the problem of American foreign policy is it tends to favor its interests."

She cited as examples the decades-long support of regimes Egypt and Syria.

"We haven't seen them pushing for change in Saudi Arabia because they just want it to remain stable," she said. "It doesn't matter if women don't get to vote, it doesn't matter that they have all these problems. What matters is to keep the oil flowing and just keep it stable."

The United States represents to the protestors a "democratic ideal" that the protestors are trying to reach, she said.

"Hopefully democracy will prevail in the end, and the people will live to one day be free," Anees said.

Also participating in the forum was Achala Sebit Moi, a native of South Sudan who lived for six years in Syria.

The forum was moderated by Dr. Benno Wymar.

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