Obama reiterates his support for Arab Spring nations

In his speech to the U.N. on Sept. 21, President Obama renewed his promise to support the Arab Spring, a wave of democratic uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa that began last spring.

“The United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy with greater trade and investment, so that freedom is followed by opportunity,” said Obama according to the White House press office website. “We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society — students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press.”

While this pledge is a good show of support for countries like Egypt, Libya, and Syria, what will it actually mean in real terms?

“Probably not a lot,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Robert Duncan. “It was good P.R. I think as a matter of principle, our country stands behind people who are struggling for freedom and democracy. Wherever they are . . . And yeah, we will help as much as we can but we’re not going to send in any Marines or any B-52s. Once you sort it all out and if you need help, we’ll be glad to extend a hand.”

Obama also made the rather vague oath in his speech saying that he would take measures, “to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people.”

Though some may crave a more concrete plan of action, Obama’s hands are tied when it comes to providing the countries in the Arab Spring with tangible forms of aid. The $1 billion Egyptian debt relief package, as well as the economic development funds Obama proposed last May, have yet to make any headway in Congress, according to the Seattle Times.

“The Republicans are not going to do anything that will in any way, shape, or form give any kind of support or advantage to Obama or the Democrats,” said Duncan. “They’re playing the blame game. They’re intentionally gridlocking Congress for their own petty ideological ends.”

However, there has been some progress in supporting the Arab Spring with monetary aid. According to the Washington Post, the Senate Appropriations Committee authorized $140 million in economic-development funds for Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan.

The Egyptian debt forgiveness has been restricted to $500 million, half the amount that was originally proposed, with only $50 million of that accessible in 2012.

The revolution in Egypt seems to be serving as something of a barometer of the Arab Spring. The outcome of the Egyptian uprising will likely determine not only the success of the other countries’ rebellions, but also whether or not the U.S. will send more aid their way, according to the Washington Post.

On the likelihood of Egypt being able to successfully establish a democratic government, Duncan is not optimistic.

“The Muslim brotherhood is the leading political organization over there,” said Duncan. “They do not like secular governments. So whatever form of government does emerge, it may be more democratic, in that opposition voices may be allowed to be heard and may be represented in the Congress, but I think the overwhelming majority would be in support of a theocracy, a sharia government … That’s my reading of those tea leaves.”

While this prediction for the future of Egypt’s revolution may well be an accurate one, many agree that the real power and hope of the Arab Spring lie with the youth of North Africa and the Middle East.

“The youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship and rejecting the lie that some races, some peoples, some religions, some ethnicities do not desire democracy,” said Obama according the White House press office website.

“The advantage of a dictator is they control the press … the TV stations, (and) the radio stations,” said Duncan. “They keep the people deaf, dumb, and happy. They don’t know what’s going on. You’re in control. Now you can’t because communication’s out there … Now the government has lost control of the communication and you’ve got probably 50 percent of the population in these countries under (the age of) 25.”

Duncan thinks that in addition to the increasing access to online communication outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, the global economic crisis has also incited the recent rebellions across Arab world.

“They’re very young,” Duncan said. “They’ve had some education but they have no opportunities. There’s no industry. There’s no career for them. There’s no future. And they see what the West has and what’s going on in the rest of the world and they’re pissed off. And so now that they can communicate, and this can be shared — boom. There you go.”

In the end, Obama communicated the message that the U.S. supports the fight for freedom, equality, and democracy wherever it may be found.

Though the road ahead will undoubtedly be a rough one for the countries in the Arab Spring, Obama ended his speech on a hopeful note saying: “Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible. So, together, let us be resolved to see that it is defined by our hopes and not by our fears. Together, let us make peace, but a peace, most importantly, that will last.”