Still trying to process the magnitude of the news out of Egypt. A great day for the Egyptian people.
Watching Al Jazeera’s YouTube feed at 11:50am today, I heard the news anchor say: “An unprecedented move: a sitting president, forced out of office by the sheer will of his people.” Well, I’m sure that’s the euphoria talking — and why not — but unprecedented? Hardly; all of this has happened before and will happen again.
Another commentator — an Egyptian novelist whose name I didn’t catch — spoke about “the clarity of good and evil” that could be so strongly felt in the streets. And it is indeed astonishing, the focusing and clarifying effect of such revolutions, when ambiguity falls away and the choices present themselves starkly: you stand for something, or against something. And such moments can make for great and necessary beginnings. But they’re only beginnings; now comes the hard part, after the euphoria fades: the task of ensuring a civil (and civilian) democracy, and all the imperfect choices and messy arguments that that entails.
I understand all the considerations that must be given to realpolitik, but I dearly hope the American government makes clear its commitment to its avowed democratic principles. As Nicholas Kristof says:
And let’s hope that the United States makes absolutely clear that it stands for full democracy, not just for some kind of false stability that derives from authoritarianism. The Obama administration missed the boat in the last few weeks, but I thought yesterday’s speech and statement by President Obama marked an improvement. Let’s hope it continues. May Mubarak’s resignation mark a new beginning — in Egypt, and also in wiser American policy toward Egypt and the Arab world.
Ursula K. Le Guin, impatient with the White House’s wary equivocations, concurs:
If the American president had delivered a clear message of moral solidarity with the peaceful crowds in Tahrir Square and then stood by it, if he were talking now not just with old-crony-Suleiman but with Mr El Baradei and the leaders of the Egyptian Army and the Moslem Brotherhood, that would do more to defuse radical Muslim terrorists, and to weaken the half-demented regime in Iran, than anything else we could do.
If we want to see Israel survive, Egypt offers us a chance to try to force Mr Netanyahu and his party back from the brink to which, in a death-instinct as determined as that of any jihadist, they keep dragging their people closer and closer.
Old Egypt is offering us a new and great opportunity: to break free from out-dated, noxious alignments and policies in the Middle East, to speak out for freedom from tyranny, to support a people reaching for democracy, to remember what being on the right side is like. The opportunity won’t last long. They never do.
To remember what being on the right side is like. That would be on the side of the Egyptian people, hopeful, brave, and triumphant, to whom this day belongs.
(Photo credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)