Photo of a New York City protest in support of protests in Egypt (Image by Flickr user neotint (cc:by))

This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more on the push for democracy in Egypt and the Arab World, listen The Takeaway's newest podcast Wave of Change, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

The United States often tries to position itself as the champion of democracy. The reality is often more complicated. "Every one of the regimes that's being challenged today, whether in Yemen, in Tunis, in Jordan or in Egypt has been strongly supported by the United States," according to Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. "Including in its repressive actions."

At this point, the United States needs to disassociate itself from its previous policies, according to Khalidi. For him, that means withdrawing support for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The protestors "are demanding that Mubarak leave," he says. "The longer we hang to his coat tails, the longer we are likely to look like the country that supported the Shah up to the bitter end."

The United States should also be held accountable for its past policies, Khalidi says. "The people who said that you have to support repression, you have to export secret police and intelligence techniques, or the United States won't be safe, these people should be held to account."

If the United States fails to disassociate itself with its past policies, there's a chance that these protests could turn to anti-Americanism. " Those movements will perhaps become more hostile to the United States," Khalidi says, "because the United States will not be helping the people to make their countries more democratic."

If, on the other hand, the United States supports change, there's a chance that it could lead to more democracy throughout the world. Khalidi told The Takeaway, "I think it's clear that there's a possibility for democratic change in several of these countries. I'm not saying it will necessarily go that way, all kinds of other things could happen."

There is a strong history of democratic thinking in Egypt and Tunisia. Khalidi points out, "They were demanding democracy in Tunisia and accountability in the government in the mid 19th century. This is not something that came via Twitter and Facebook." Now, according to Khalidi, the United States has an opportunity to support that democracy in the future. 

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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