The Domino Theory comes to mind when watching events in the Middle East. Except that now, it’s not the influence of communism that is toppling the dominoes — it’s the force of democracy. Inspired by the citizen-driven ouster of autocratic dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, pro-democracy demonstrations have spread across border after border — west to Libya, Algeria, and Morocco, and east to Yemen, Bahrain, and Djibouti. One senses that Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi — whose human rights record was on the minds of Englewood’s residents and mayor when they chased him out of their Bergen County town in August 2009 — may be the next domino to fall.
The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia have been breathtaking because of their nonviolence. The removal of regimes that dismissed basic human liberties that we take for granted in the United States was accomplished without the bloodshed and atrocities that all too often make revolutionaries no more morally superior than those whom they seek to displace.
Yet in 18 days, the people ended 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s boot-heel rule without descending into warfare. A peaceful revolution is hard to pull off without organization, and the role social media played in helping youth activists to organize in Egypt has been widely chronicled.
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), a human rights-advocacy organization that partners with grassroots organizations around the world, worked with Hands Across the Middle East Support Alliance (HAMSA) to help drive organizational efforts in Cairo. HAMSA, a U.S.-based group that works to improve civil rights in the Middle East, mobilized activists and bloggers in the United States and in Egypt. The nature of social media enabled groups like “We Are All Khaled Said” not only to spread information rapidly, but also to provide a discussion forum allowing for tactical refinement on the fly.
Writing last Friday in the Huffington Post, UUSC President William F. Schulz noted that the revolution “would have been a lot more difficult without Facebook, Twitter, and texting.” Schulz, the former executive director of Amnesty International, warned however that what Egypt’s military — which is now using Facebook to promote its own causes — does with its newfound power is an open question. “Those who care about democracy and human rights could do much worse than to redouble their efforts to spread online technology and protect Internet freedom,” he wrote.
The UUSC’s work is grounded in Unitarian Universalist principles, including justice equity, and compassion in human relations and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. UU congregations across New Jersey last December participated in UUSC’s “Guest at Your Table” fundraising drive. The drive ended Jan. 9 — but as with any not-for-profit organization, it’s never too late to support UUSC’s work, which includes collaborating with partners like HAMSA (see slideshow) that are striving to bring real democratic change to the Middle East.
The next domino might be even more unthinkable than Egypt.
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