Sunday, February 20, 2011
Well done, Egypt!
Top: Egyptian protesters, many days before their victory. Copied from Feb. 1 post of Jordanian blogger Roba, original source Reuters. For other beautiful photos of the protests see Roba's Feb. 6 post.
Bottom: One of the fallen Egyptian freedom fighters - 23-yr-old Sally Zahran. Copied from msn.com, original source unnknown.
When East-European countries, including my Bulgaria, suddenly freed themselves of communism in the "Autumn of the Nations" of 1989, I enthusiastically thought that my adult life would coincide with a global reign of freedom.
Some years later, I started to think exactly the opposite - that 1989 was not a dawn but a rare spark in a realm of darkness, and I would not live long enough to witness another similar spark.
But it is here and now - the so-called "the Arab Spring" is sweeping the North Africa and the Middle East, and it seems that nothing there will ever be the same again.
All began in Tunisia by a hitherto unknown man, 26-yr-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi. For many years, he had been harassed, humiliated and blackmailed by arrogant and corrupted police and municipality officers during his overwhelming work to feed his family. When they confiscated his goods and beat him in December last year, this was the straw that broke his back, and he publicly set himself on fire. And then, the whole country caught the fire. Protests escalated, until the dictator Ben-Ali was forced to resign and flee to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.
This was an awakening for other Arab nations who suddenly realized that their dictators were not invincible. In one country after another, protesters filled the squares. The events are still ongoing and the balance of forces uncertain, with one honorary exception - Egypt, where the protests beginning on Jan. 25 on the Tahrir ("Liberation") square in Cairo and in other cities forced the dictator Hosni Mubarak to resign on Feb. 11.
I wish I could welcome the Egyptian Revolution with my whole heart but, to be honest, I must admit that my feelings are mixed. I admire the courage of the protesters and their love for freedom, and I wish them and their whole nation all the best. However, I am afraid that events may take an unfortunate turn - and I am not alone. Because the main opposition force in Egypt is the infamous Muslim Brotherhood, many Western commenters see the shadow of the 1979 Iranian revolution - which also began with striving for freedom, and ended with establishment of a grotesque theocracy and slaughter of freedom-loving people. Tunisia is a tiny country, so nobody seems too bothered by the rumours that a motley crew of Islamists and Communists is heading for the elections there. However, Egypt is an important state, a regional power; and while the threats/promises of the Muslim Brotherhood to make a war with Israel may well be empty words, nobody is willing to bet on it.
Of course, I feel uneasy with this opinion, as a supporter of a wrong cause. Any statements that a nation is not yet ready for democracy and could not apply it correctly smell of racism and are usually voiced by enemies of mankind and civilization. Which, unfortunately, does not always guarantee that they are untrue... My opponents may ask, and will be right - how could a nation under a dictator teach itself to master democracy? How can you ban a person to immerse his foot in water, and then claim this is for his own good because he cannot swim? As the Benghazi Citizen (I hope he is OK) said, "No nation throughout history was ready for democracy, because those who ruled made sure that their people (or their subjects) are never ready."
In the particular case of Hosni Mubarak, he presented himself as a friend of Israel and the USA (enjoying a nice $1.5 billions of aid per year; as someone commented in the Ha'aretz forum, "real friends don't need to be bribed"). At the same time, he used his goverment-controlled media to enhance the antisemitic and anti-American feelings of Egyptians. Sandmonkey, who himself took part in the Egyptian revolution, wrote on Feb. 3: "A veiled girl with a blurred face went on Mehwer TV claiming to have received funding by Americans to go to the US and took courses on how to bring down the Egyptian government through protests which were taught by Jews... State TV started issuing statements on how the people arrested Israelis all over Cairo engaged in creating mayhem and causing chaos." So, whatever happens, I am not going to miss Mubarak. I cannot even call him what Paul Johnson called the former Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, "a loyal if disgusting ally of the West". Mubarak was disgusting but did not come anywhere near being a loyal ally. The best I can say of him is that he did not order a crackdown on his people and stepped down when the number of victims was "only" in the three-digit range (365 as currently reported by Wikipedia). However, I have all reasons to think that this was not Mubarak's merit; rather, the military sensed the direction of wind (as we say) and forced him to resign in time.
To continue the analogy with the swimming - normally, people are trained to swim under the supervision of skilled swimmers. When some country is stepping on the path to democracy, someone else must keep watch, give directions and be ready to intervene if things go terribly wrong. Outside Europe, this "someone" can be only the USA. What a pity that the Arab Spring had to happen exactly when the White House is occupied by a man able only to talk. As a person who makes her living almost entirely by talking, I know very well the limitations of what you can achieve this way.
But let's leave all these worries for another day. When a tyrant is oustered, it is time to celebrate. Well done, Egypt, congratulations! I remember a poem, by an unknown author, written in the unruly days of late 1989:
"Не бой се, народе, в тебе е силата,
днес си изграждаш нова съдба.
Добри или лоши - Бог знае ги новите,
но старите трябва да паднат сега!"
Don't be afraid, people, you have the strength
To build your new destiny today.
God knows, good or bad the new rulers will be,
But the old ones must step down now!