I’ve remained relatively silent on Egypt because I figured that everyone else was already saying pretty much everything that’s been said. Mark LeVine‘s take on the implications of the seismic shift in Cairo over the past 18 days is particularly worth reading – I don’t think I’ve read a more well-thought-out, succinct, intelligent piece on what’s going on right now. In it, he quotes Foucault, speaking on Iran back in 1978:
It is not a revolution, not in the literal sense of the term, not a way of standing up and straightening things out. It is the insurrection of men with bare hands who want to lift the fearful weight, the weight of the entire world order that bears down on each of us – but more specifically on them, these … workers and peasants at the frontiers of empires. It is perhaps the first great insurrection against global systems, the form of revolt that is the most modern and the most insane.
Much as I hope that Egypt turns out differently than Iran, I of course couldn’t agree more with both Foucault and LeVine – that, whatever the ultimate outcome of this uprising, what is clear is that this is an uprising not only against an oppressive, sclerotic, unresponsive, nepotistic, cronyistic, corrupt régime, but also against those who supported and enabled it. We’re already seeing the backlash. The leaders who professed great friendship with Mubarak, stayed at his villas and embraced him as a champion of stability in the Middle East will not be let off the hook easily, because their hypocrisy and lack of moral courage is so visible and obvious. In an era where every word ever uttered can be instantly retrieved on Google, and every hug of every dictator captured on digital camera, leaders can’t afford to be the duplicitous realpolitik-ers that they once so often were. Add to that the barriers that Julian Assange did such a great job breaking down with WikiLeaks, and it’s clear that technology is indeed forcing leaders to be at least a little more transparent and honest about the choices they make both at home and abroad.
That’s a good thing, but it’s something to which the world will have to take time to adjust, though the positive nature of new technology and how it helps protesters coordinate and dissidents organise is already clearly visible in the events of the past couple of weeks. And in the meantime, there’s a lot of anger against the West that will have to be vented. I don’t believe that people will turn to the Muslim Brotherhood – I think that if the protests showed anything, it was that people didn’t want Islamism and fanaticism – but I’m no expert. What’s clear, in any case, is that if relatively free elections are around the corner (rather than some kind of military dictatorship that remains a possibility), Egypt’s relationships with its neighbours will change as its government does. It will probably be less friendly to Israel. It won’t prop up the Sudanese régime in the way it has before. Its relationship with Libya and other Arab dictatorships will probably also be altered in some way.
That’s all secondary, though, because what should really be celebrated here is the monumental achievement of a people who, through relatively peaceful protests, managed to bring down a dictator who’d been in power for 30 years, and who was near power for even longer – and all this in just 18 days. Mubarak stayed while Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Thatcher, Blair, Mitterrand, Chirac, Kohl and Schröder came and went. Even mere months ago, few outside Egypt were even vaguely suggesting that Mubarak could ever be forced from power. Propped up by extensive American and European military and economic aid, as well as a formidable military trained in the best Western schools and an extensive secret police, he ruled as a Pharaoh for decades. No-one knows what will happen next, but it is a testament to the strength of the Egyptian people that they refused to back down, even in the face of police and military brutality, until the tyrant that ruled over them left his throne.
And, to commemorate this day, here are some photos that Western leaders would rather you forget: