It has been an exciting two weeks sitting in a front row seat watching the revolution in Egypt. Our future is definitely in the game yet the United States is barely a player. Possibly the new government, not yet close to being formed, will hopefully continue to be a friend and ally. The danger is that Egypt may follow in the footsteps of Iran and become an intractable enemy. Change is in the air and we can only wait and watch.
It isn't hard to tell why the masses of Egyptians are upset enough to riot.
They have labored under an autocratic dictator, Hosni Mubarak, for more than 30 years and have had enough. Their unemployment rate is sky high and any time a society has an excess of unemployed young men it is in for trouble. The vast majority of the population is terribly poor and the price of food is rising. Then too with the advent of modern technology the people of Egypt are able to see how people in the rest of the world live and they want some of that freedom for themselves. At this moment it appears that the greatest demand is for Mubarak to be gone with little thought of who or what will replace him.
The cry is for democracy, for the freedom to vote for a government of their own choosing. Evidently there are numerous factions that will be clamoring for a voice in country's future. The vast majority of the population is Muslim but there is also about twelve percent of the population that are Christian, mainly members of the Egyptian Monophysite Christian Church, better known as Copts. The Copts incidentally prefer, for the moment at least, to keep Mubarak in power as their rights have been somewhat protected by his regime.
Unfortunately the largest organized political faction is a fanatical organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood. That group clamors for power and if they are able to take over it will most likely form a government similar to the brutal theocracy that rules Iran today. Their goal will be to implement Sharia law with individual liberty totally suppressed. Under Mubarak the Muslim Brotherhood has been brutally suppressed in part because that organization was responsible for assassinating Anwar Sadat, Mubarak's successor. Mubarak didn't want a repeat of that deed and was brutal in keeping it from happening.
For a democracy to work, it is necessary that voters be informed and Egypt has no such tradition. The principles of government have to be taught in schools and a free press is essential, all of which are lacking today. For a democracy to succeed it is essential that minority rights be protected where again Arab countries have a poor record. Militant Islam's solution is simply to kill off the unbelievers. That too was the practice in Stalin's USSR and Mao's Communist China.
All too often in history people have revolted and thrown off a government that they hated only to form a new one that was even worse. It happened in France and the people got Robespierre. It happened in Germany when the populace voted Adolph Hitler into power and he developed a Fascist state that could only be overthrown by a World War. In 1979 the same thing happened in Iran when the Shah was deposed and the evil autocratic government formed that we know today. It happened in Gaza when Hamas was voted into power and it is happening in Lebanon with Hezbollah taking over today.
All is not yet lost in Egypt. Our best hope seems to be that the Egyptian military will take a leadership role, quell the unrest, and take the steps to form a representative government of some sort. Their military is a conscript army where all young men are required to serve for a short time; I think at least a year. The military's senior leadership though is a professional cadre, well educated and largely exposed to the western world.
Many have been educated in the United States and our own military has helped them train and modernize. The old guard in their military was influenced by the USSR but under Mubarak their orientation changed to the United States.
However at present their military is somewhat a closed society, they are not speaking out, and we don't know what direction they will take in resolving today's crisis.
On television we can watch the riots day to day. It has been sad to see violence, brutal beatings, rock throwing and all men in live action. The last two days though we see families, women and children protesting on the streets and the majority of the violence no longer evident. It has been interesting to me also to see that the population is unarmed. The only shots fired have been over the heads of the rioters in an attempt to quell the violence. An armed populace like we are here in the United States might not put up with only throwing rocks. But then, too, a couple of feet of snow and several days of zero degree weather might have been a quieting factor too.
Watching the events unfold day to day we are not privy to behind the scenes negotiations that our own government and emissaries from other countries are conducting with the Egyptian government. The pundits on TV have lots of opinions about what is happening or what they think should be done but those are just opinions. Eventually we will know the result of this revolution and for me it is thrilling to watch it unfold.
That is how I saw it.