The uprising in Egypt, as well as the recent one in Tunisia, has no doubt taken the Obama administration by surprise. While Obama is correct in calling on the Mubarak government in Egypt to restrain from using force against the protestors in the street, he has been vague in calling for Mubarak to comply with the demands for reform in his country.
This weekend I am reading for my undergraduate seminar on Chicano/Latino religious traditions in historical perspective, Philip Berryman’s Liberation Theology: The Essential Facts About the Revolutionary Movement in Latin American and Beyond.
Although published in 1987, there is much in this book that, I believe, is still relevant -- not only for Latin American and U.S. Latino Catholics, but for many others looking at the events in Egypt.
One section that, in fact, I was reading yesterday as I was also keeping an eye on events in Egypt was Berryman’s discussion of human rights.
Berryman makes the key point that human rights should not just focus on individual rights or the rights of just some groups, for example, to publish their newspaper without fear of repression. Instead, human rights -- from a liberationist perspective -- take a macro position.
Berryman correctly observes the hypocrisy of imperial and neo-colonial nations such as the U.S. and European powers -- who for years kept Third World countries such as Egypt under first colonial rule and then in the postcolonial era sunder a condition of economic dependence where the First World continued to exploit the economic or strategic wealth of these countries.
Hypocrisy here is calling for human rights in Egypt, for example, and yet supporting a military dictator such as Mubarak in order to advance American economic and strategic interests -- such as insuring passage through the Suez Canal -- even if this has meant supporting a government that has suppressed human rights.
Human rights are not just individual rights but the rights of people to their own liberation and self-determination. Of this Berryman writes:
I agree with the liberationist’s broader historical and social interpretation of human rights and that is what we should be addressing in the case of Egypt and other countries where the people are oppressed and have no rights to control their own destinies.
This is where the U.S. should position itself and support the Egyptian peoples’ demands for self-determination first by the removal of Mubarak.