Independence, liberty are sought worldwide

It was a tax issue — and a high-handed government that failed to listen to the concerns of colonial citizens — which provoked the uprising that became the American Revolution and led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago today.

Taxes can still get people frothing mad in this country, but it is the sense that government doesn’t care about its citizens, that it ignores their complaints and their rights and exists only to serve an elite few that really gets people angry.

Such sentiments are not unique to this country.

Consider the drama playing out in Egypt this week. As this was being written, the Egyptian Army had suspended the constitution and entered the streets of Cairo in force, not to support President Mohammed Morsi, but to side with the tens of thousands of protesters who have been showing up en masse in major Egyptian cities to demand change and Morsi’s ouster.

Morsi took office last summer following what was viewed as a fair election after the removal of autocrat Hosni Mubarek.

But Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood cohorts have done little to endear themselves to the Egyptian populace. Topping the Egyptians’ list of grievances is the economy. Unemployment has increased since Morsi took over, while gasoline has become a scarce commodity and tourism has been stagnant.

But there are other issues that aren’t so different from the list of complaints Thomas Jefferson prepared against British King George III:

✔ The Egyptian government is being run for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood and its friends, with little thought for average citizens.

✔ Only Sunis, members of the officially approved state religion, are treated fairly. Shiites, Coptic Christians and smaller religious sects are persecuted and even murdered.

✔ Press freedom is almost nonexistent. A variety of news organizations having been shut down by the government and the country ranks 158th of 179 countries worldwide in press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.

✔ There is also a more modern complaint: Women, who had substantial independence during the Mubarek regime, have seen their rights diminish during the reign of the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood.

No one can say whether Egypt is moving closer to true democracy or something very different. But it is clear that in that ancient civilization — and in places as different as Turkey, Brazil and Syria — people still crave and are willing to put their lives on the line for liberty and responsive government.

There is much that needs to be fixed in this country, and the political divide often seems more impossible to bridge than ever. But, nearly two and a half centuries after our founders declared their independence from a tyrant, it’s worth celebrating the fact we still maintain the basic rights and liberties that millions of people around world seek, and we have regularly changed our leadership without resorting to military action.


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