Last week the world witnessed the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after thirty years as Egypt’s autocratic ruler. This astonishing event was the culmination of an 18 day demonstration in Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, carried out by all strata of the Egyptian population. Chants of the young and old, the rich and poor, the secular and religious, all combined as one voice to demand the demise of Mubarak’s reign. After his resignation, the Supreme Military Council took over the country and dissolved the Parliament, suspended the Constitution, and called for elections within the next six months.
Mubarak’s resignation is a result of the Egyptian people fighting for their own freedom and a right to a better life. This protest was a call for better jobs, more participation in government, and an end to corruption. It was not an American attempt to overthrow the regime or a coup by hard core Islamist movements. This relatively peaceful protest was a homegrown demand for better government and a brighter future. It remains to be seen whether or not this can be achieved, but the demonstration set the possibility in motion.
While this move towards increased freedom and government accountability should not be overlooked, fears for the new political situation are starting to surface. Israel has expressed its fear that Egypt’s new government will not honor their peace treaty thus eliminating one of its only allies in the region. It remains to be seen how Israel-friendly an incoming government may be, although the military has announced that Egypt will honor its international treaties. So while the regime change may be disconcerting, it is still too early to tell what the future will bring and how regional politics will be affected.
Change is always scary because the outcome is never predictable. Indeed, the Iranian Revolution and the Palestinian elections did not turn out the way Washington would have hoped. Still, fears that Islamic insurgents will turn Egypt into the next Afghanistan seem too premature. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood, the leading Egyptian opposition group, has renounced violence and provides social and medical services to the Egyptian public rather than advocating fundamentalist ideologies. Washington must overcome its fear of Islamic terrorism and give the results of this revolution a chance to play out. This transition will hopefully spur what will become a more democratic era in the Middle East. Protests in Iran, Yemen, Algeria, and Bahrain have also erupted this week and the protestors hope to replicate the Egyptian revolution and achieve what the Egyptians have achieved in their own countries.
This wave of protest is inflaming the Middle East and has the potential to dramatically restructure the politics of the whole region. It also has the possibility of rooting out Islamic terrorism by holding Middle Eastern governments accountable and ending some of the frustration and desperation of their populations. If the public believes that it has better representation in the government and the economy and job markets are stimulated, a majority of their grievances are no longer valid. Perhaps in the end, internally driven protests will have a greater effect on inspiring democratic reforms than foreign-led invasions. In his column in the New York Times, Rodger Cohen suggests that we should “overcome 9/11 through 2/11: the road to reconciliation leads not through Baghdad or Kabul but through Tahrir” (The New York Times). Only time will tell if this turns out to be true, but it seems worth it to try.
~ Alissa Aronovici