Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt +

It’s not surprising that the Egyptian people are fed up with an authoritarian regime, nor is it surprising that they would take to the streets once the prospect of getting rid of their repressors seemed real. Revolutions are not new. Our forefathers did it. The French did it. The Russians did it. It’s not a rare phenomenon.

What is surprising is that the full force of the Egyptian military and police have not been brought to bear to kill, terrorize and put down the rebellion. The Chinese did it in ’89. The Burmese have done it on more than one occasion. The Soviets did it whenever they felt their rule was threatened. See Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc. The Iranian leadership, even though they themselves gained power through a popular uprising, put one down last year. In Syria, the current Assad’s father handled a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hama by pretty much destroying the entire town. And so on.

Why hasn’t Mubarak used brutal means to suppress his people during the past week? Either he feels he can ride out the storm without making fundamental changes and thus doesn’t need to employ such measures or he feels he can’t survive and would rather preserve his legacy by putting new people loyal to him in charge and ‘gracefully’ retiring.

I suspect it’s more the latter. If he watched what happened in Tunisia when the dictator Ben Ali was forced to flee and his buddies who were left behind tried to maintain power without him – and couldn’t – he’s smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall. It won’t take long for us to know whether his ego will overcome his instinct for self-preservation. In any event, Egypt has already crossed a threshold and will not remain the same. At least in the short-term this will be good for Egyptians. It might not be so good for the Israelis and Americans.

Other autocrats in the Middle East have also got to be worried. Assad has begun saying the right things. It’s possible the changes for the better he’s allowed in Syria in recent years will get him off the hook. Jordan? Yemen? Algeria? And others? Time will tell.


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