TED Conversations

Taghi Amirani

Filmmaker - TED Senior Fellow, Amirani Media


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The west can no longer claim to be an honest broker in the search for peace in the Middle East.

Has Egypt exposed a blatant hypocrisy in the west's relationship with the Middle East? For decades the west has propped up and funded dictators in the region, preferring 'stability' to democracy in order to protect its own interests. All at the expense of the human rights of the people in the region. A people who have finally spoken and will continue to speak. Peacefully, elegantly and in a highly sophisticated manner.

For western leaders is freedom a question of strategy rather than principle?

A quote from Gary Younge in The Guardian: "Last week Tony Blair said Mubarak was "immensely courageous and a force for good". On Sunday he said Mubarak's departure could be a "pivotal moment for democracy in the Middle East". The man charged by the major world powers with bringing peace to the region can't make up his mind whether he is for despotism or democracy from one week to the next."


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    Feb 15 2011: Is it possible for "Democracy" and "Freedom" to oppose one another? When Pew Global Research did a survey of Muslims in several countries on the role of Islam in politics, the results from Egypt (90% Muslim pop.) included:

    84% of Muslims favor the death penalty for leaving the religion
    82% of Muslims favor stoning for committing adultery
    77% of Muslims favor whippings/cutting of the hand for theft
    54% of Muslims thought suicide bombing could be justified often, sometimes or rarely (8%, 12%, 34% - 46% never)
    54% of Muslims favor gender segregation in the work place
    Among those who think Islam is playing a "large" role in politics, 95% view this as a good thing

    I believe in change for Egyptians. I believe in freedom for Egyptians. I believe in democracy for Egyptians. I don't believe these can all co-exist - so I find myself, from "the West," having to choose (and ignore) some of my principles. In your words, I guess I too am being a "dishonest broker" in the search for peace in the Middle East - but I don't think I'm dishonest, and I sincerely want peace.
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      • Feb 17 2011: I agree with your first statemant concerning democracy. But there are different qualities of choices, let us say, choices which are in concordance with democracy and choices against it. It is not the same if a majority favours death penalty or condemns it. Death penalty is irreversible! And it can easily be abused, for example to reduce the number of opposite opinions.
      • Feb 18 2011: Mark, I do see a problem with having majority imposing rules on minority or individuals if these rules clearly affects individual's basic human rights. For example, leaving religion is a basic human right and you cannot punish people for exercising their freedom of choice. Percentages of votes do not mean anything in this case.

        Many countries do protect minorities (disabled, native Indians etc) because majority is not always right. Free society should be looking at balance between the needs of various groups and ensure that basic human rights and freedoms (as per United Nations declaration) are upheld. I think that is why we do not let majority vote on such things in democracies.

        In democracy, majority votes only on issues that effect everyone, there is not clear right answer and a decision has to be made e.g. voting for political parties.
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        Feb 18 2011: my Political science prof's make sure to use the term "Liberal Democracy" to reinforce the idea that its not just majority rule. It has a guaranteed protection for individual rights. That list is showing the "un-liberal" popular opinon is in muslim areas. you will find many "un-liberal" ideas in fundementalist Christan areas as well. Democrocy is a good first step. Human rights dont nesicarily happen at the same time.
      • Feb 22 2011: I disagree to yor reply given 4 days ago, Mark.

        There are priorities, one of which is human life, and therefore different qualities. Who appreciates a non-violent kind of rule like democracy, regards this a higher level of humanity than authoritarian kinds of rule. Democracy yields among others the option to change government in certain intervals, to realize new ideas a majority regards better, to correct mistakes. Death penalty e. g. is by its inhuman and irreversible character against the spirit of democracy.

        Imagine, if a country decides to abandon it for certain delicts or to totally abolish it, then from one day to the other have been executed against the dominating human opinion, irreversibly, incorrectably, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, ...

        It will, of course, be regarded a progress of humanity that this will not happen again. Experience shows that death penalty does not reduce the number of capital crimes - criminals who commit them do not seem to fear it as much as good people fear being condemned erraneously. If so, death penalty rather wastes more lifes than it saves.

        Now, to return to Taghi's main question, what about making war to hypocritically bring the gift of democracy? Many thousands of innocent people being killed, mutilated, deprived of their economic existence by a country calling itself democratic, the democratic majority there spending enormous sums that flow back to a minority which wanted and pursued this war? Ist this democracy? By the way, the same country still sticks to death penalty in some of its states.

        In my opinion, such an attitude is far from real democracy and not bringing real freedom to the "freed" countries. It is strategy right away from both concepts.
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      Feb 17 2011: A big issue I have with your thinking is your "having to choose". It is not your choice to make. It is not the the choice of the US or the West to make who will lead another country.
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      Feb 18 2011: @Phil Niles - Thank you for your contribution. I am intrigued by the statistics you present, having some difficulty reconciling them with the Egypt I know and have travelled in. Need some time to look into their origins, their accuracy, sample size of those surveyed etc.

      I am also intrigued by the following statement: "I believe in change for Egyptians. I believe in freedom for Egyptians. I believe in democracy for Egyptians. I don't believe these can all co-exist".

      I need time to digest this too.
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        Feb 18 2011: Hi Taghi! I haven't finished digesting those statistics myself. I wish I had analogous numbers for American/European views of the role of Christianity in government.

        Even if one assumes those statistics are true and that the laws will come to reflect those views, perhaps Egypt should still have a democracy nonetheless. Should the US have had a "democratic" system before there were equal rights for all? We still don't have equal rights for all today.

        I need to see this change in Egypt as a step towards a better path, not as a solution. It's progress and there's a long road ahead. I think Western governments and Westerners are a little scared of the big change - at least this one is.


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