When the Sphinx falls, no one remains indifferent. In many capitals, not only in the Middle East, the leaders of the world's autocracies are trembling. The events in Egypt are just the beginning of the deluge, so they think. The main square in Cairo brought tahrir (liberation ) to Egyptians - but probably not just to them. This is a word that will most probably become part of the universal lexicon: Jihad, intifada, mukawama (resistance ) are out; Tahrir is in. The cracks in Poland and Hungary brought the Berlin Wall down and the Soviet Union collapsed; the revolutions in Tunis and Cairo have millions hoping for a resulting collapse of tyranny around the world.
The behavior of rulers in the region has ranged from trying to woo the opposition and buy some precious calm, to using the tried-and-true techniques that begin with tear gas and end with live gunfire: Jordan's king was quick to replace his government and it even invited the Islamists to join the new one; his Bahraini colleague opened his wallet and promised thousands of dollars to every family in the kingdom; the president of Yemen raised the wages of his soldiers and cut income tax by half; the administration of the Algerian president confronted the thousands of demonstrators, but not before he announced cancellation of the state of emergency imposed on the country after the Islamists won the 1992 elections; and the Iranian leadership, which is officially thrilled by the results of the Egyptian revolution, is showing signs of nervousness and is arresting opposition leaders who are once more challenging it.
If Tunis and Cairo can do it, what about Minsk, Havana, Caracas - and why not Moscow and Beijing, too, commentators asked yesterday.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was quoted as saying that he hoped for "the completion of the process and the holding of democratic elections in Egypt." The Russian opposition has been trying to draw a parallel between the situation in its country and Egypt. But of course it is completely different: Surveys show that most Russians consider stability to be of the highest value. The period following the collapse of the Soviet Union is still fresh in their memory. The Russians prefer giving up some of their rights in return for a stable ruble and steady income. They feel that the quality of their lives has improved significantly, compared to the level they experienced a decade ago.
A parallel can be drawn with the situation in China. During the past year it passed Japan and became the second-largest economy in the world. Hundreds of millions were brought out of poverty and are willing to turn a blind eye to the lack of political freedoms, the arrest of regime opponents and the oppression of minorities, so long as economic prosperity continues.
President Peres ridiculed Middle East experts and analysts who lacked the ability to foresee the recent developments and assess their implications. The analyst Roger Hardy of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington was courageous enough to say on the BBC that he was convinced the Tunisian president would crush the uprising against his regime. He was also certain that what happened to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia would not happen to Hosni Mubarak.
According to Peres, the experts are simply blind to the development of the Facebook and Twitter generation. In Russia there are currently 50 million Internet users, compared to just three million a decade ago. If the price of oil sinks, the Web might explode. That is what the Chinese (460 million Internet users ) also learned, when events that appeared to be "minor" - involving crimes and corruption of the regime - were revealed on the Internet and led to rioting. The Chinese empire of censorship has blocked any dialogue on the Egyptian revolution. And it knows why.
People power has never been so exciting. When the wind of democracy blows, it does not always take into consideration political boundaries. Medvedev was one of the first to point this out, when he said, following the uprising in Tunisia, that "what happened [there] is quite a substantial lesson to learn for any authorities. The authorities must not simply sit in their convenient chairs, but develop themselves together with the society. When the authorities don't catch up with the development of the society, don't meet the aspirations of the people, the outcome is very sad."
Francis Fukuyama is probably working on updating his "End of History," and maybe Samuel Huntington might have changed his "Clash of Civilizations." As for Europe's leaders, they might reconsider the question of the failure of multiculturalism, and the one regarding the compatibility between Islam and liberal democracy.
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