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Contentions

Putting the Egyptian Revolt in Perspective

On Fox News last night, Charles Krauthammer made a crucial point: one of the reasons the revolution in Egypt succeeded is that Hosni Mubarak’s regime was not nearly as brutal as that of the mullahs in Iran. To its credit, the Egyptian military did not turn its guns on its own people. With Mubarak gone, what lies ahead in Egypt is very hard to tell. It’s possible that what replaces Mubarak is worse than Mubarak ever was. This would not be the first revolution to betray the hope of its people. But of course, the policy of the United States wasn’t to overthrow Mubarak; the question was, once the revolution began, would the United States side with Mubarak, which clearly would have been a disaster (it would have permanently alienated those we now need to align ourselves with); or side with the demonstrators, who “rose to proclaim their fidelity to liberty and who provided us with a reminder that tyranny is not fated for the Arabs” (see this masterful piece).

A very knowledgeable acquaintance points out in an e-mail to me that the “most important point is that the demise of Mubarak’s regime, which I believe was certain to happen within a decade, could not have taken place in circumstances which are more hopeful than the present. There were no prominent shouts of ‘Death to America,’ or even ‘Allahu Akbar.’ Instead, many protesters painted their foreheads with ‘Facebook’ — hardly an anti-American statement. There are many ways things can still go wrong, but we will have more influence if we show genuine support and enthusiasm right now for the genuine peaceful and freedom-supporting character of this event.”

This person went on to say that while some unpleasant policy stands by a new Egyptian government are inevitable, “don’t forget some of the damage Mubarak did, with state television running the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and official media attacking the U.S. role in Iraq.” He could have added that people like Muhammad Atta and Ayman Zawahiri grew up in the garden tended by Mr. Mubarak. (In The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright relates a line of thinking that insists America’s tragedy on September 11 was born in part in the political prisons of Egypt.)

To say all this is not to say, pace some of my friends, that those of us who were moved by what happened in Tahrir Square believe it’s time to pop the champagne corks. Not by a long shot. It is, in fact, simply to ask that we keep things in perspective, both what is genuinely good and what is genuinely worrisome; and to appreciate, even just a bit, the courage and nobility that we witnessed during the 18 days that shook the Arab world.



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