Thomas Jefferson - courtesy of Flikr.com
Americans, on a daily basis, do not consciously think about the freedoms they were bestowed by the founding fathers over 230 years ago. Freedom of speech, entrenched in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, is something that most non-democracies do not have in their respective constitutions. The famous phrase "we the people" would be somewhat out of place in a non-democracy. The simplicity of the US Constitution does not diminish its weight; it is perhaps the single most important document in Western political thought, not because of its direct affect on individual lives--although that is certainly important--but rather what it symbolizes. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has recently suspended Internet use in his nation to stem the mobilization efforts of protestors in his country, who have largely coordinated their movement and cause through facebook and twitter. As will be outlined, If Egypt had laws against such acts, they would be able to experience one of the greatest benefits of living in a free society: free speech.
US Bill of Rights
People who live in liberal democracies are not consciously aware that a large portion of the world is not free. Although the last three decades has seen a general increase in democracy in the world, many nations slide back to authoritarian regimes after experimenting with democracy, namely because they lack the institutional capacity to function. In addition, democracy requires leaders to trust their citizens by bestowing them with freedoms, chief among them the freedom of speech. Egypt is not the most rigid authoritarian regime in the Middle East; in fact there has been opposition groups that have attempted to make democratic reforms. These have, by and large, proved unsuccessful, as the government--led by Mubarak--has not been receptive to these ideas. It is extremely difficult to push for reforms when freedom of information and free speech can be easily cut off by the executive branch of government. Whereas such an occurrence would be impossible in the US, as the US Constitution explicitly prohibits such an act, non-democratic nations like Egypt do not have similar measures to safeguard their citizens against such acts.
We the People
Egypt, as previously mentioned, is the most oppressive nation in the world or even the Middle East, but they could easily be labeled what Fareed Zakaria calls an "illiberal democracy." This can best be described as a nation that falls between democracy and an authoritarian regime; it is a country that may have clearly defined institutions, but fall short of entrenching liberal values in their constitution. Democratic movements and civil disobedience are made exponentially more difficult when freedom of speech is infringed on by a government. Most of the democratization that occurred in Eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War resulted from the mobilization of the masses, which was enabled by their ability to freely assemble--although attempts were made to interfere in mass protests. Mubarak's decision to "unplug" the Internet does not mean the end of protest in his country, as nations revolted against their governments before the Internet was invented and I suspect that the innovative capacity of individuals will ultimately trump the tyranny of one leader.
For more, visit: http://www.suite101.com/content/bill-of-rights-missing-in-egypt-a339618