Walk like an Egyptian
History sometimes produces an interesting symmetry. If Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leaves the Egyptian presidency (and probably the country) today, then his rule will have come to an end on exactly the same date on which, in 1958, Gamel Abdel Nasser became president of the United Arab Republic, a short-lived union between Egypt and Syria.
From the safe but probably also not fully informed location of my home in Dublin, it is way past time for President Mubarak to go, and key Western states have probably once again repeated their Cold War mistake of offering support for too long to an ally whose régime had ceased to enjoy popular support or consent. From my vantage point, though, I do not really know what kind of government, or indeed what kind of state, the protestors want, and we don’t have to look too far beyond Egypt to see examples of countries in which popular uprisings removed oppression and replaced it with yet more oppression.
As we watch events like this unfold, we should probably be aware that the system of government that we enjoy – i.e. a liberal democracy (with all is imperfections) – now holds sway in countries often thought to be in global decline, while the countries advancing internationally often have governments that are more authoritarian. We balk at the notion, but it may well be that a majority of the world’s population now regard liberal democracy as a western or European cultural tradition that does not translate well to other parts of the world.
On a recent visit to the United States I heard a television commentator suggest that liberal democracy will inevitably triumph in the competition of political ideas across the world. I would really like to think that is so, but somehow I doubt it. We may learn a little more in the days and weeks after President Mubarak has walked.