I listened to Hosni Mubarak’s rambling speech live on the radio yesterday afternoon. As soon as it became clear that Mubarak was not stepping down – as had been widely reported he would – but rather was still planning to stay in office through September, I remember thinking, “my God, what a foolish man. Can he possibly be so out of touch with what is happening in his country that he thinks this is going to be enough?”
I’m impressed by the Egyptian military, which so far has shown restraint and even sympathy to what the protesters are demanding. Time will tell … in light of yesterday’s confusion, it certainly seems possible that the military is itself divided and is not speaking with one voice. There’s of course still the possibility that the military will choose to crack down, or at least to try to keep the current regime in place. But it’s also possible that the military will conclude that Mubarak’s time has expired, that propping him up for six more months will do much more harm than good to the country, and that the best course would be to support some sort of transitional structure along the lines of what Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has suggested.
I can’t stop watching. I’ve got the NY Times on auto-refresh. I’ve got a couple of Twitter feeds going – Alan Fisher and Sherine Tadros of Al Jazeera English, ElBaradei, and Google executive and unlikely revolutionary hero Wael Ghonim.
I do find it incredibly inspiring to watch a country of some 80 million people rise up, for the most part peacefully, and largely without clearly organized leadership, against an autocratic regime that for decades has kept them down. No, we don’t know what will happen, and yes, there could be consequences not entirely favorable to American interests. Some people are scared about the Muslim Brotherhood, and are lashing out, advocating that the ban on that party be kept in place. But I’ve heard a number of reports from Egyptians suggesting that, in a truly democratic election, the Muslim Brotherhood would not be expected to win more than 15% support, and that in any event, they are not the scary radicals that some would make them out to be. I don’t know – I am no Egypt expert (of course, that hasn’t stopped some from pontificating). But I do wonder whether a democratic movement can succeed if its first act is to continue a ban on a political party.
As I write this, the Twitter feeds have exploded: President Mubarak has resigned the presidency and has handed power over to a military council. Extraordinary. Here’s hoping for a peaceful transition, and that ElBaradei is right:
We are at the dawn of a new Egypt. A free and democratic society, at peace with itself and with its neighbors, will be a bulwark of stability in the Middle East and a worthy partner in the international community. The rebirth of Egypt represents the hope of a new era in which Arab society, Muslim culture and the Middle East are no longer viewed through the lens of war and radicalism, but as contributors to the forward march of humanity, modernized by advanced science and technology, enriched by our diversity of art and culture and united by shared universal values.