Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt without Mubarak: 80 million people
look forward to a new future

It's all over the news right now: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down after 30 years of rule, much of which was on an emergency mandate. The revolution was essentially 18 days of peaceful demonstrations largely inspired by events in other countries like Tunisia. Egypt's military distinguished itself by its nonviolence and its studied neutrality, especially during the early stages of the revolution (now being called a "Winter Revolution" by Western journalists; whether Egyptians are also using this phrase is unclear to me). [UPDATE: Talk of all this being the outcome of a largely nonviolent military coup is racing through cyberspace. See Malcolm's post here.]

On a BBC webpage, a live-streamed interview was in progress a few minutes ago as a BBC reporter spoke with an elated Egyptian named Zakaria about the significance of this revolution. When the reporter asked what it was about Mubarak that had so enraged the Egyptian people, Zakaria said that it wasn't so much what Mubarak had done as what he had not done for decades, namely, encourage the market. Zakaria also felt that the next country to experience such a revolution might well not be an Arab one, but would instead be Iran. Significantly, he also said that Iran and other Middle Eastern countries have mischaracterized Egypt's revolution as Islamic. In Zakaria's opinion, the revolution was fundamentally secular, and any involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood merely signified that the Muslim Brotherhood was one oppressed party among many, nothing more.

Despite my doubts about the Muslim Brotherhood, I hope Zakaria is right, and that after the celebrations die down, more and more people will also see this moment in history as Egypt's great opportunity to modernize, embrace an openly secular market paradigm, and swim with the flow of history. It's going to be a hard swim: other bloggers have noted that 80% of Egyptians still advocate stoning an adulteress; I don't see such primitive mores changing anytime soon, but an increased focus on cultivating a true market economy will do much to introduce Egyptians to different viewpoints regarding the proper treatment of women and other aspects of modernity.

I have no desire to see Egypt move in an explicitly American direction as it embarks on the next phase of its evolution, but as has been true for the rest of us in the modern industrialized world, I hope the country begins a slow but steady process of self-examination, and starts to whittle away the more embarrassing vestiges of its history. America still wrestles with the consequences of slavery, racism, and genocide within its own borders, but to its credit, it engages in open, spirited dialogue on multiple fronts about these topics, encouraging a conscious awareness of the prickly issues that are still unresolved in our culture. The result has been massive gains for ethnic minorities, up to and including a black president. Egypt has 80 million people; who knows what such a country is capable of?

I have no idea what the future holds for a land that was the cradle of so much human civilization, but I wish the Egyptian people well, and hope that their revolution bears beneficent fruit.

UPDATE: Mike offers his "wet blanket" view here.


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