A good part of my recent visit to Toronto was spent glued to the news coming out of Egypt. Then on Thursday, Mubarak finally addressed the nation – and failed completely to satisfy the demonstrators. But by the time I read the headline in the Globe and Mail on Friday announcing that he would stay, the announcement that he would actually quit had already been made (sometime while I was in the air the previous evening and apparently too late to make the morning paper). Subsequent news stories were all about the celebrations and implications of the “new regime” with surprisingly little about the timing and process of the change of heart – though I eventually did find a blow by blow account on the BBC website.
Of course, any enthusiasm for the result must still be tempered by uncertainty about what will really happen and whether or not the democratic spirit will survive the stresses of inevitable failure to fully meet the expectations of all and to actually solve the structural economic problems (many of which are due to external causes beyond any national control).
But what does not need to be tempered is our admiration for the way the people of Egypt have handled themselves so far. The thuggery that has occurred has been little beyond what one would expect of disappointed British soccer louts or Canadian hockey fans, and the restraint of the military (both soldiers and leaders) has provided a model that could improve the behaviour of our own guardians of “order” at events like the G20 last year.
A couple of factors worth noting by way of partial explanation (but without significantly detracting from the huge amount of credit due to both protesters and militars in Egypt) is the almost complete absence of serious weaponry outside the control of the military and the dependence of that military on American approval for funding. Despite appearances (and his last ditch attempt at defiance), Mubarak’s power has always been subject to military approval and the military has always been highly dependent for both resources and training on its American counterpart. And so Obama’s pleas for restraint on all sides may well have helped ensure the victory of progressive elements in any debates that occurred within the regime side of things. An anti-colonial cynic might say that Obama was “running” the military and Google was “running” the protesters, but I prefer to believe that they were all just significantly more humane and enlightened than some of their contemporaries in other places.
Remarkably some idiots in the US media are now second-guessing the public pronouncements of the Obama administration (notwithstanding their complete ignorance of whatever was being said in private) – even to the extent of believing in some cases that he had “told” the Egyptian administration to have Mubarak to resign (or for those who did not hear him that way wishing that he had been firmer about it). Of course any such “telling” would have been totally inappropriate and an almost inevitable cause of future resentment, so anyone who thinks he did so would actually be best advised to say as little as possible about it.