Memorial Day in the Middle East

By Senator Ben Nelson

Memorial Day has taken on different meanings over the years. It began as a holiday on May, 30 1868, to remember Union Soldiers who died in the Civil War. After World War I, when it was called Decoration Day; commemorations honored members of our military who died in all American conflicts. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday in May.

Today, it is observed with patriotic ceremonies and parades. Many people visit cemeteries and celebrate with barbecues, picnics, and family get-togethers on what has become the traditional start of the summer season.

More Than a 3-Day Holiday

Most Americans take a few moments during the holiday weekend to honor those who’ve died in service to our country and to think about the men and women who put their lives on the line everyday to protect our freedom and the safety of our citizens. We think about turmoil in the world that is aimed at disrupting our way of living.

This year, I will spend Memorial Day in the Middle East. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’m travelling to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and will be meeting with government, military, business, and civil society leaders in both countries.

We’ll be talking about Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran and Syria – as well as Israeli and Egyptian-Saudi relations.

This is a historic time to be visiting the Middle East, as Egypt holds its first free presidential election in 5,000 years. The 13 candidates will be narrowed down to two who are expected to have a runoff in mid-June.

Let’s hope the winner will work closely with our country, as Egypt has the Arab World’s largest population and the presidential vote is seen as a crucial test for democratic change since the Arab Spring revolution swept across the region resulting in the downfall of then-President, Hosni Mubarak.

Older Culture vs. New Democracy

Many cultures, such as Egypt’s, are much older than the U.S., yet in our relatively short time as a democracy, we have come to be the model for other countries. Spending Memorial Day 7,000 miles away from home at this historic time, my thoughts go not only to our military men and women who are serving now but to those who have died defending our freedoms and what their sacrifice means to a free election in emerging democracies such as Egypt.

Americans who have given their lives and those who continue to fight assure that the promise of equality and liberty will continue to spread throughout the world. Their sacrifice sends a powerful message to every nation that we will support our allies and oppose our enemies to ensure freedom and justice for all.

It’s an all-American message that has inspired Egypt as its people hold free presidential elections. Here’s hoping that the coincidence of a free election coming at the same time as one of America’s most cherished and patriotic holidays bodes well for the future of both our countries and becomes a role model for the entire Middle East.

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