EDITOR’S UPDATE: Media reports were wrong.
What was obvious weeks ago has come to pass: Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule is over, according to media reports. The Egyptian revolution now enters a new phase.
It’s no secret to readers of CONTENTIONS where my sympathies lie, which are with the Egyptian people. Their uprising, from everything I can discern, is animated primarily by anti-Mubarak feelings, which are entirely justified; and by their longing from liberty, which is entirely commendable. Still, anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history knows that movements claiming to stand for liberty, equality, and fraternity can end in a Reign of Terror. Modern conservatism, in fact, was born in reaction to a revolution (France, circa 1789) gone bad.
I understand, too, that a healthy political culture is crucial if liberty is to succeed. “Men must have a certain fund of natural moderation to qualify them for Freedom,” Edmund Burke wrote in a letter to Lord Charlemont in August 1789 (among the earliest known comments by Burke on the French Revolution), “else it become noxious to themselves and a perfect Nuisance to everybody else. What will be the Event it is hard I think still to say. To form a solid constitution requires Wisdom as well as spirit, and whether the French have wise heads among them, or if they possess such whether they have authority equal to their wisdom, is to be seen.”
Now it’s Egypt’s turn to show if it has wisdom as well as spirit; and if so, whether it can channel this remarkable moment in a direction that enhances ordered liberty.
Among conservatives, there has been a spirited debate about the direction and pace of events in Egypt. Should the United States have been stronger in its support of the Mubarak regime, or exerted far more pressure on him to reform than we ever did? But this matter is now largely moot. The House of Mubarak has fallen. The Egyptian people have re-entered politics and history. The time for lamentations is over. The job of American policymakers is to help shape events in a wise and prudent manner (see Max Boot’s counsel here), to express solidarity with those who grew weary of living under the lash of the whip, and to assist genuine self-government to take root. It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, yet the task could hardly be more important. Starting today, in Egypt, our interests and our ideals are coincident. That is something that all Americans, and all conservatives, should be able to agree on.