Friday, February 11, 2011

The page turns, at last

The wheel of history turns at its own pace. Egypt’s Pharaoh had been expected to step down yesterday. He chose instead to spit into the eye of the world and dig in. Tahrir Square went from jubilation to despair.

But in the wee hours before dawn, the generals finally said, enough, and put His Highness Hosni Mubarak on a plane out of Cairo. Today, joyous shouts of “Egypt is free!” thunder over the pyramids and beyond.

Change will not happen overnight. But Egypt’s moment is pivotal. Oppressed peoples the world over suddenly have a viable model to emulate. Contrary to Mao’s dictum, North Africans have shown that political power – and the basic human rights it might bring – does not have to spring from a barrel of a gun. Nor does it require a caliphate. That new reality is Bin Laden’s worst nightmare. Behind heretofore impregnable walls, authoritarian rulers from Riyadh to Beijing are quaking in their splendid palaces. The stability that dictators say they provide is illusionary. If Egypt has taught us anything, it is that coddling despots only begets more despotism.

In the Middle East, and perhaps beyond, the genie is out of the bottle. The score is: Protesters (Tunisia, Egypt) 2, Dictators, 0. “People Power” has won the day. But will it win real freedom and democracy? That page of history has yet to be written.

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