Friday, February 11, 2011

The Power of Unity -- A Formidable Tool for Peace and Security

Today, February 11, 2011, Egyptian protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, in Alexandria and in Suez got their wish: President Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt after thirty years in power.

In following the media coverage of the historic events that have unfolded in Egypt over the past eighteen days, the most striking phenomenon has been the demonstration of unity amongst people of disparate backgrounds: the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, secularists and Islamists, the young and the old and people of various political persuasions. This unity has manifested itself in three ways: unity of purpose, the ability to speak with one voice and unity of action. When coupled with a disciplined determination to keep the protests peaceful and avoid violence, the power of such unity has been phenomenal: it has begun to change the course of history both within Egypt and inevitably within the region.

The power that results from unity of purpose, action and voice is one that the international community would do well to ponder and to mindfully cultivate as it seeks effective tools to maintain and restore much-needed peace and security in the world.

It makes no difference whether the problem is caused by a bully in the form of an autocratic leader with whom the citizens of a country are contending, or whether it is caused by a bully in the shape of the government of an individual nation which threatens the peaceful equilibrium of all member nations of the world community; in order for the solutions to all such problems to be effective, they must be pursued in reliance on a spirit of absolute unity. Whether it is a president who has seized power in defiance of the constitutional requirements of his country, as in the case of Mr. Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast, a president whose autocratic rule has outlived its welcome as in the case of Mr. Mubarak, or a country that poses a threat to other countries through its illicit pursuit of weapons of mass destruction such as Iran or North Korea, any effective solution must have as its linchpin the principle of unity.

In the case of the Ivory Coast, the African Union and the the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) must continue to speak with one voice (with the continued backing of the EU, the UN and the rest of the international community) and act as one -- with collective force if necessary -- in order to be effective and set a good precedent for the rest of Africa. In the case of Iran and North Korea, it is high time for the international community to rise to its responsibility and clearly decide what it will do when a nation has been clearly shown to be flouting the international rules that prohibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons and is consequently threatening the peace of the world with its behavior. The consequences of such behavior must be clearly specified and agreed to by all nations, along with the circumstances in which they will be applied. Moreover, punishment must be meted out even-handedly to all who break the rules. Last, but not least, it is time to establish an international standing force that represents the international community and has the mandate to enforce its collective decisions.

It is not until the international community can both speak with one voice and back its voice up with unified action that peace will become a reality. As for Egypt, it is still not out of the woods: what remains to be seen is whether the people of Egypt can maintain their unity of purpose, voice and action as they go about collectively crafting the future of their country.

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