‘Egypt Is Free!’ Yes, but…
After 29 years as Egypt’s dictator-in-chief, President Hosni Mubarak has finally eased himself out the door. At 6:01 p.m. Cairo time, February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman took to the airwaves and solemnly ann0unced that Mubarak had resigned.
“In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic,” Suleiman said. “He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state.”
A crowd estimated in the hundreds of thousands immediately erupted in cheers as they thronged Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “Egypt is free!,” they chanted. They launched fireworks, waved flags, honked car horns and fired guns into the air.
Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, a popular catalyst during the 18 days of Egyptian demonstrations, proclaimed, “This is the greatest day of my life.”
“The country has been liberated after decades of repression,” he said, adding that he anticipates a “beautiful” transition to democracy.
We should be relieved that Mubarak’s reign ended with a whimper instead of a bang. We could have witnessed an assassination, or an armed coup, or a massacre in the streets. Instead, Mubarak simply skipped town and headed for the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
But I can’t help feeling that the Egyptians deserved a valedictory statement from their own president. At least Richard Nixon was upright and forthright enough to address the American people when he resigned under pressure after a year and a half of recriminations that left him powerless to continue.
Mubarak slunk away like a rodent, following a shape-shifting series of statements in which he defiantly clung to whatever vestiges of power he could salvage at the moment. Not an especially noble exit. The people of Egypt deserved better from their self-appointed pharaoh.
So now the army is in charge of Egypt. Where do the army’s sympathies lie? Will the Armed Forces Supreme Council respect the popular will and open the unpredictable floodgates of democracy? Or will they simply hunker down and empower themselves as a new autocracy?
My hunch is that there’s no turning back. Even the most repressive army stands little chance of subduing 80 million freshly liberated Egyptians, any more than England’s King Canute could turn back the sea with a royal wave of his sceptre back in the eleventh century.
Egypt has tasted democracy and won’t abide anything less. The great pyramids stand mute as the roar of the people echoes from Tunis to Cairo to the other capitals of the Arab dominions. Today those people have cell phones, Facebook and Twitter to amplify the roar. But what exactly do they want, other than liberation from corrupt and oppressive regimes? Will their revolution remind us of Eastern Europe in 1989… or Iran in 1979? We’ll find out soon enough.