Waris Husain: From Washington to Tripoli- Lessons in Revolution

            In discussing the options to intervene in nations like Libya where political dissidents are attempting to free themselves from despotism, the American Revolution provides several lessons for the Jasmine Revolutionaries. The first correlation one can draw between the two movements is the similar tyrannical and imperial rule that preceded them. Secondly, Arab revolutionaries should understand the significance of the American Revolutionaries having created the Declaration of Independence at the outset of their agitation. Finally, the French intervention which assisted the U.S. in its war against the British monarchy shows us how a self-serving intervention by a foreign power can still net a positive result for the nation it is helping.

            The first similarity between the revolutions taking place across the Middle East / Africa and the American Revolution was that they were both inspired by the tyranny of their ruling power. One must draw a distinction as the U.S. was ruled by an English Monarchy who lived thousands of miles away while places like Libya are ruled by their own home-grown dictators. While post-colonial leaders like Ghaddafi are home-grown despots, they have used the same techniques to rule the people as their colonial masters.

The favorite method of the English and French during their colonial hay-day was the ‘divide-and- conquer’ strategy, which has been adopted by many African and Arab dictators. This strategy aims at stoking tensions and internal wars between tribes or ethnicities, in order to divert attention from the Colonial powers’ unjust exploitation of the colony. The British attempted this with the American colonies in order to distract people from realizing the increasingly steep levels of taxes being levied on the colonists without any representation awarded to them in Parliament. Dictators like Ghaddafi and Mubarak used these tactics to hide their own system of corruption, nepotism, and tyrannical violence.

Though both the revolutions in America and the Middle East share a common despotic environment from which they grow, the strategies of the two revolutionaries differ radically. By drafting the Declaration of Independence, the American revolutionaries were forced to come together and agree on the reasons for separating from the British crown and the modes by which to do it. The process of creating the document itself required there to be a shared purpose at the outset of the insurgency against the British amongst all participants which created cohesion and order. The Mid-East revolutions have happened at such a faster rate, that such planning and drafting of documents has not taken place, and the opposition forces have suffered due to this lack of shared vision,

The American Declaration began with a phrase to explain why such a document even needed to be written, as “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they [the revolutionaries] should declare the causes which impel them to the separation [from the English monarchy].”  This respect for the “opinions of man-kind” has not been shown by the Arab revolutionaries, who have not produced cohesive manifestos to let the world know exactly why they are revolting and how. This becomes especially important with regards to foreign intervention, as we see a squeamishness amongst the Western world to support an opposition group that has not expressed their motivations or plans for the future. 

Finally, many have criticized the American intervention in Libya as merely a political move not based on principles of democracy-promotion, especially as the U.S. ignores the plight of democracy promoters in oil-rich allied states like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Yet, as the world focuses on the hypocrisy of the U.S. action in Libya, one should take note that there has always been a self-serving hypocrisy amongst nations who assist revolutions in other nations.  

The American Revolution could not have been possible without covert support of the French, who were themselves ruled by a king at the time. Why would one king wish to aid insurgents hoping to topple another monarchy? The answer is simply that the French had less of an interest in the democratic cause of the American revolutionaries, and more of an interest in bleeding out their arch nemesis, the English.

While there was a shared belief amongst the elite of France and the U.S. in the Great Enlightenment and in principles of democracy, the French made a purely pragmatic foreign policy decision in assisting the American revolutionaries. It was this rivalry between France and England that provided the American revolutionaries with the guns, money, and supplies needed to defeat the British. Therefore, it didn’t matter what self-serving interests existed for the French, because the net result of their intervention was that the Americans freed themselves from colonial rule.

Thus, there are several lessons that can be learned between the American Revolution of 1776 and the upheaval across the Middle East. The inception of both movements comes from a tyrannical rule, whether in the form of Arab/African dictatorship or British colonial rule. The drafting of the Declaration of Independence by the American revolutionaries should be a model adopted by dissidents across the world as a means to join together under a singular document as well as express their views to the rest of the world. And while the world debates intervention, some will look to the French involvement in the American Revolution and will realize that the motivations of the interveners are less important than their actions. Most importantly, America should look at her own history before continuing to ignore the plight of activists in nations like Saudi Arabia, who are imprisoned and tortured for the doing exactly what the founders of our nation did.


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