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Opinion: American values in Egypt
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- Imagine the United States as seen in the Declaration of Independence. Here is a feisty new nation declaring independence on the basis of the belief that under God all people are created equal, that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," such as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

This is a people who believe societies set up governments in order to advance and protect such rights. Therefore it is fully appropriate to "alter or abolish" any form of government that violates them.

The America of the Declaration of Independence recognized it is no small thing to overturn a government. People will endure an unsatisfactory government for a long time rather than muster themselves to force its abolition.

But "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."

The Americans who signed the Declaration of Independence realized they were taking a great risk. If their effort failed they faced almost certain execution as traitors to the Crown.

Theirs was an all-or-nothing gamble. They were in it together to the end. Hence the exultant/desperate language of these primarily quite young men at the close of the Declaration they all signed: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Hundreds of thousands of primarily quite young men and women occupied Tahrir Square in Egypt for three weeks. Despite all kinds of governmental pressure, inducement and seduction, they remained, until finally they pushed Hosni Mubarak from power.

They forced an end to a despotic regime, a faux democracy that routinely violated the most basic human rights of its people. Here was a people seeking life, liberty and happiness, or even just a chance to participate in the basic decisions that affect their own lives.

The leaders of this movement also knew they were facing an all-or-nothing gamble, and they regularly evinced the willingness to die for their cause. More than 300 did die.

Of all the 190 nations in the world looking upon these extraordinary scenes from Egypt, one would think the 235-year-old United States of America would have stood at the forefront of those who supported the protesters and the principles for which they stand.

In the end, the U.S. government celebrated with the Egyptian people. But during the crisis, our leaders couldn't quite seem to make up their minds about what to say.

Are we not the same nation that we were in 1776? Are we no longer motivated by the same principles?

This is not exactly true. The values articulated by the Declaration of Independence are inscribed in our national DNA. They can never be entirely effaced. And there are among us a number of individuals and groups who stand wholeheartedly for the continuing centrality of these principles in our domestic life and our foreign policy.

But over 235 years we have grown greatly in national power. We are no longer the upstart people who needed help from France to defeat Great Britain after a Revolution that really could have gone either way. We are instead a global superpower. Since World War II, we have grown accustomed to using our power to influence the course of global events in ways that benefit our political and economic interests as we understand them. We are "realists" now, not "idealists."

So the hemming and hawing from the White House and State Department made a sad kind of sense. Our leaders wanted to advance both our interests and our values, or at least to be seen to be advancing both. So we were unwilling simply to throw our full support to a mass movement for the precise values that our forebears defended in 1776.

For weeks we negotiated with a regime that has been killing, torturing and abusing its own people for the better part of 30 years. When the popular movement gained steam, we tilted in their direction. When the government won a round, we tilted that way. It was a sad and disturbing spectacle.

Is there a quorum in this country willing to stand up for principle rather than mere expedience? Might Christians be among those who remember that there is such a thing as a non-negotiable moral conviction?

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