Egypt has finally revolted. Since January 25th, the people across the country have risen up in a spontaneous, non-centralized fashion – in Cairo, in Alexandria and in other towns and cities. Perhaps it was the “tulip revolution” in Tunisia that acted like the spark on the tinderbox. Or perhaps it was the unique crowdsourcing abilities of social media like Twitter and Facebook.
But more likely, it was a combination of the aspirational needs of the overwhelmingly young Egyptian population which grew up in a police state, the collective realization that they could effect a change like Tunisia. As Fareed Zakaria rightly put it during his GPS show in CNN today, it is a combination of a fast growing economy and the consequent increasing aspirations of the people that dictatorships can never serve.
Yesterday, the Saudi King, that great beacon of freedom and tolerance condemned the Egyptian protestors and expressed support for Hosni Mubarak. Nothing surprising. Birds of a feather, dictatorships all over the Middle East are now realizing that short of a very violent crackdown on people’s aspirations, there is nothing they can do to stop people from rising up for their aspirations and rights.
Only time will tell what this means for countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen. However, one thing is clear – what is happening in Egypt is not just an isolated incident. Its symptomatic of the general feelings of the overwhelmingly young population all over the middle east – caught between a fast changing and interconnected world on one hand and an unbelievably unchanging and dictatorial political structure and leadership in their countries.
The Egypt situation raises huge questions about US foreign policy – there is the moral imperative of supporting the change of regime that the common man wants in Egypt. And then there is the realpolitik realization that with Mubarak gone, Egypt could be taken over by the Islamists or worse, descend into non- governable chaos. The NY Times just reported that the Islamic Brotherhood just officially came out in support of El Baradei to negotiate on behalf of the protestors. This is a very encouraging sign. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood realizes the concern the world has around fundamental Islamic takeover and the fact that it is adjusting accordingly leads me to believe that most of the western concerns of Egypt descending into chaos or some kind of Orthodox islamic rule is over-blown. Yes, the US may very well find that the next Egyptian president may not be as much of an ally that Mubarak was. The reality of a more free thinking Egypt on a precarious middle east still needs to be seen.
But this is a moment in history. This is way more important than just another police state where the people are standing up for their rights.
PS: It was touching to hear this protestor say on CNN – we have 2 choices – either Mubarak leaves or we die here. We dont have a choice and we need your support (to the United States). Get it right, POTUS, get it right. Beyond immediate geopolitical compulsions, there is the right thing to do – something you always say the shining beacon on the hill cares about.