What an amazing day.
Of all the possible outcomes which could reasonably be expected today, the Egyptian people have effectively spun the carnival prize wheel and received great fortune of it stopping on “freedom”, without excessive violence. While I share the excitement of the Egyptians and the world with regards to the lofty possibilities and opportunities that are now within the grasp of a people who have been ruled with an iron fist for hundreds of years, I think it’s wise to moderate that with a little bit of cautious wisdom. We all should recognize that the hardest work is still yet to be done, and that the overthrowing of a dictator, while dangerous and monumental, will soon appear to be child’s play at times in the coming years as the Egyptian people attempt to formulate a democratic society essentially from scratch, out of a fabric that still has deep tribal style roots.
Many are calling the removal of Mubarak and the toppling of a 30 year regime, essentially by gathering in the hundreds of thousands of screaming at the top of their lungs, a “Berlin wall moment”. While I agree that metaphorically speaking they are very similar and represent tipping points which make large leaps from the previous status quo to a new and wondrous sense of freedom that has been sought and hoped for for decades, there is a big difference between the two situations.
The fall of the Berlin wall opened up relations between two nations who, while politically very different, were very similar in many other ways. Most obvious of course is the fact that East Germany and West Germany were both comprised of “Germans”, many of which had blood ties, pre-World War II. But the more important fact to recognize is that East Germans were assimilated into West German democracy which was already standing and operating smoothly. In other words, the stable model was already present, and from a point view of political democracy the two Germany’s hit the ground running with a proven system in place with which they could work immediately.
There is no such luxury in Egypt. The Egyptian people are effectively falling into a Democratic vacuum, and I fear that in the coming weeks and months, as the dust begins to settle and the powers that be attempt to become the “powers that be”, the Egyptian people may find themselves disoriented and flailing about much like you would feel as if you fell 40 feet into a pool water.
Without the presence of the Egyptian military, potential for Egypt to spiral into a freefall that might only be caught in a safety net of organized Islamic radicals would be great, perhaps insurmountable. Even with the presence of the military, that potential pitfall is still so great for the Egypt that the world cannot afford to take our collective eye off the ball in these formative months and years.
The sudden presence of freedom and the euphoric feeling of “possibility” will rapidly be replaced with the reality that the mere existence of freedom does not automatically provide you with answers to all of your problems, either individually, or as a society. Food will not rain down from heaven. Jobs will not materialize out of thin air. Freedom may allow people of Egypt to act publicly in ways that they are not used acting, and some will become overzealous, tribal ties may even widen gaps between the people, and it’s very possible that there will be a rapidly growing sentiment that everyone not like “me”, either individually or politically, is the root of my problem.
In other words, Egyptians may find that it is harder to be free than it is to be ruled, because you now have to make things work with other people you do no like or agree with…
Without strong leadership and a high degree of intellectual wisdom and patience it is very possible that Egypt could fall into a more regressive form of democracy, one which is not helpful to them, the region, or the world.
What happens in Egypt in the short term could clearly affect the rest of the world rather profoundly, either positively, or negatively. I’m certain that the world is more than willing to give as much assistance and guidance to them as they request or need. Let’s hope they take the world up on all those offers, and shun any attempts of radical regimes or groups to turn them down the path of radical Islam, jihad, or the desire to destroy Israel.