All over the media map, you can locate naïve idealists seeing evil and darkness in this place (that would be embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and those around him) and decency and light in that one (that would be the protesters in the street). One of the two wins, they figure, and everything will be just wonderful if it’s the protesters.
Decades back, I thought like that. A revolution was taking place in Cuba, someone named Batista seemed the villain, someone named Castro seemed the hero, and I was excited about the democratic splendor of a Castro victory. The victory came about.
It was not democratic splendor. It was egomaniacal bombast, political prisoners, firing squads, slavery of the masses, the deprivation of every right known to humanity, increased poverty and a nearby parking place for Soviet ambitions.
I excuse myself for cheering Fidel Castro because I was then an early teen. I had not yet pondered how the 18th century’s egalitarian-inspired French rebellion, ending in dictatorship, cut the rich down to size by chopping their heads off. I knew less then than later about the mass murder that came after communist revolts in Russia, China and elsewhere. Because it hadn’t happened yet, I could not know an Iranian revolution would give us fanatical clerics many times worse than the shah who previously ruled.
These TV, blog and newspaper commentators are well out of their teens, and they therefore ought to get it that dispelling the bad can deliver the demonic, as in the Muslim Brotherhood grasping power out of the Egyptian turmoil. While these devotees of extremism might then temper some of their worst inclinations, they might also bludgeon the populace with Sharia law, sponsor terrorism and threaten Israel’s survival.
Mubarak is himself a tyrant, of course, and many of the protesters fall short of being Islamic jihadists, but let’s don’t suppose the sure answer for the country is nothing more than elections soon. Elections empower people and help confer self-protection, but we usually mean far more by the word “democracy” than that; we also mean liberties, rights and justice. Elections have put people like Adolph Hitler in power and majorities can be tyrannical. In Egypt, we need a transition process that employs constitutional revision and other means to help bring about democracy in the fullest sense.
That doesn’t mean there should be no substantive change once Mubarak has left, as he surely will. A slightly subdued authoritarian state with different personalities would be another dark outcome. A gray outcome? One of the possibilities would come with an arrangement in which stability stays and the economy improves as a result of reforms that still leave massive numbers unhappy and deprived of liberties and opportunities as extensive as they rightly hope for.
The best outcome would be one in which the people do get those liberties and opportunities along with stability, in which reasonable, non-hostile foreign policies remain intact and in which radicalism imposes none of its depredations.
I think something like that is achievable given restraint and realistically instructed good will by the current civil and military leaders along with patience, persistence and wariness by the most moderate of the protesters. But it’s hardly the inevitable result of immediate, dramatic change — something it seems to me ought to occur to any adult commentator on what has been going on.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.