WSJ: Egyptians stood in solidarity with Wisconsin, now we must return the favor

December 5, 2011
Michael Lethem

CAIRO - The Egyptian Military and Central Security Forces have committed crimes against humanity in the struggle for control of Tahrir Square.

I have been in Tahrir all day and well into the night on recent Fridays. I witnessed hundreds of thousands of Egyptians peacefully rallying to express their political opinions and opposition to the continuation of military dictatorship in Egypt.

Their leaders responded to their peaceful appeals with live ammunition and CR gas, which is classified as a "combat class chemical weapon" by the U.S. military. Its use is forbidden in the United States.

As an American, I have been doing my best to be an ambassador, to tell Egyptians that the world is watching, that Americans care about the atrocities being suffered by Egyptians in their pursuit of a free, democratic state.

I frequently tell stories about how thousands of Wisconsinites took to the square in our capital city. I tell them how we were deeply inspired by the then-recent overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the millions of brave Egyptians who rose up against a leader who didn't listen.

Indeed, this seems to be a common and troubling characteristic of leaders across the world. Even in democratic countries, our leaders seem unable to listen. When more than 60,000 people occupied Madison's Capitol Square, we were met with closed ears and closed minds. We responded, and continue to respond, with the biggest, most successful recall campaigns in American history. From Madison to Tahrir, people are standing up and trying to make their cries loud enough for even the most closed ears to hear.

In this struggle to be heard, one thing is most important: Unity. In Tahrir I see young and old, Christian and Muslim, socialist and capitalist. While everyone has a different idea of what the new Egypt should look like, they share a unified goal of a democratic Egypt where leaders represent the people. By the hundreds of thousands they continue to risk life and limb in the pursuit of this goal.

Egypt needs solidarity, clear examples of unity being global rather than just national. In February, Ian's Pizza listed Egyptians as one of the many peoples who donated money to bring the Capitol Square occupiers food during cold nights.

Yet I find that almost no one in Egypt believes that Americans care about their plight.

They see the words "made in USA" printed on tear gas canisters, but little if any effort by Americans to end our government's support of Egypt's dictators.

Whether this lack of confidence in Americans is the result of inadequate efforts on our part, or a lack of information among Egyptians, is irrelevant. Americans must realize that the opinions of the Egyptian people are what will matter in coming years. It's important to make our support of their democratic aspirations heard, loud and clear.

Regardless of our political opinions, if we believe in democracy, we should do everything in our power to help the Egyptians achieve this goal. Let's show Egypt, and the world, what democracy looks like. Write your representatives, make your voices heard. Stop this madness.

Lethem grew up in Oregon, Wis., and graduated from Beloit College this year with a degree in political science. He lives in Cairo and works at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies as a researcher, editor and English communications officer.