Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reflections On The Arab Revolution

The dramatic three-week uprising in Egypt that culminated with the fall of Hosni Mubarak is, taking the most optimistic point of view, the end of the beginning.

Only time will tell if the military will make good on its promise to manage the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the face of the fact that many of the former president's backers aren't going anywhere (think of George Bush being replaced by Dick Cheney, as one pundit noted) and elections will not be held for six long months.

Then there is the matter or whether other Arab nations will be undergo relatively bloodless revolutions. (You can rule out Algeria on that count, and probably Libya, as well. Oh yeah, and Iran.)

But one thing is obvious and kept coming back to me in the week and a half I spend reflecting at the mountain retreat: While the U.S. did much to entrench and enrich Mubarak it did little to precipitate his ouster. Yes, there were back-channel efforts. Yes, the Obama administration turned up the heat as Mubarak prevaricated, stalled and then sicced his thugs on the protesters. But at the end of the day -- or rather last Friday -- it was the extraordinary agglomeration of Egyptians, young and old, poor and professional, religious and not so -- who shook Egypt and the Arab world to its very core.

This is not to sell short President Obama's influence, which was presaged by his speech in Cairo in June 2009 in which he declared that only by moral force and not violence would change come in the Arab world. But to ascribe a larger role is as false as declaring, as some conservative commentators have, that he sold out the protesters.

Then there is the fact that religion and Islam specifically, always of overarching concern to right wingers in the U.S., took a back seat to social justice.

Finally and most importantly, the protesters in Tahrir Square brought more change to the Arab world in three weeks than Al Qaeda has in a decade.

Photo by By Tara Todras-Whitehill/The Associated Press

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