Letter to the Editor
By Roman Gautam '11
This Saturday, I attended a rally in solidarity with the Egyptian people that marched from UMass to Frost Library. There was a sizeable turnout even on a miserably cold and wet day, but participation of Amherst students was notably low. In subsequent conversations, several Amherst students expressed the opinion that such marches are utterly futile and that they did not march since their politics did not agree with those of everyone else at the rally. I disagree with the first opinion, and see the second as an inevitable part of any truly democratic action. But what struck me most was some of my fellow students’ seeming incredulity that anyone marched at all. I do not mean to speak for anyone else who attended the rally, but feel it is important to explain why I marched that day.

The rally brought together a diverse group of people with different political views. The point of it was not to present any unified political position on Egypt; rather it was to express solidarity with the Egyptian people, and to recognize their courage in standing up to a brutally repressive regime. Much of the emotional impetus behind the rally was to celebrate the democratic longing which people all over the world share with the Egyptians, and are now being inspired to express openly in their own countries. Personally, I did not go to the rally under any delusion that I can or should decide the final political outcome of the crisis in Egypt. It was my small way of saying to people at Amherst and beyond that I deeply admire the Egyptian people utilizing mass protest to bring down an imposing and corrupt government, and that I hope to do the same if I ever find myself in a similar situation.

Another important aspect of the rally was to remind people of some glaring inconsistencies in U.S. policy in the Middle East. Just six months ago, President Obama stood in Cairo and stated “no system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.” Yet even as he spoke, the U.S. government continued to prop up Mubarak’s deeply unpopular and corrupt regime with billions in military aid while strategically overlooking the brutal repression the Egyptian government used to maintain its democratic façade. More recently, the mainstream media in this country faithfully and uncritically reported Hillary Clinton’s praise for the Mubarak regime. In Egypt, Tunisia, and across the Arab world, ordinary people have now taken Obama’s words to heart. But the U.S. again finds itself in a situation where its defense of democratic principles does not necessarily agree with its immediate interests in the region. The rally affirmed the belief that when faced with a choice between narrow national interests and the ideal of democratic governance, the moral option is always the latter.

However, the rally was not an expression of blind anti-Americanism, although the reduction of reasoned political positions to 10-word chants invariably resulted in jarring formulations along the lines of “U.S. out of the Middle East.” U.S. power and influence in the region is an undeniable fact, but that power must be applied prudently and morally. I did not march against America, but in defense of the democratic ideals this nation rightly espouses though does not always uphold. I marched in support of what President Obama himself termed as diplomacy and government “through consent, not coercion.”

This month Amherst College joins the rest of the nation in celebrating Black History Month. Were it not for the protests during the civil rights struggle that supported the same democratic principles of the Egyptians and marchers, many students simply would not be at this institution today. Why then, paradoxically, do many of us still think of such actions as futile?

Issue 14, Submitted 2011-02-08 23:43:07