Pause a moment today to celebrate the people of Egypt. The power of the people to unseat despots has been demonstrated once again. That power is the very wellspring of democracy, and all who believe in democracy should be humbled by it, and rejoice in it.
Yes, it is fraught with risk. Hosni Mubarak was the devil we knew. His 30-year reign meant, from the perspective of the West, a stable, reliable ally. It meant a cold but lasting peace partner for Israel. It meant keeping a thumb (or thumbscrew) on terrorists.
This may be 1989, in which the Berlin Wall came down. Or it may be 1979, in which the Shah of Iran fell, to be replaced, ultimately, by the brutal authoritarians of an Islamic regime.
For a moment, put all such thoughts aside. Let fears of the devil you don’t know call some other time.
Consider what a democratic Egypt could mean.
New ideas could be given life. All that has been stifled for decades could burst forth. Egypt, as a leader in the Arab world, would send a signal to all Arab countries of the rejuvenating power of democracy.
Until now, the mosques were one of the few places in which Egyptians could let off steam. Hence, it should be no surprise when the mosques fomented radicalism. In democracies, people do not long for the medievalism of Sharia law. They do not stone adulterers. They reap the benefits of modernity. Medievalism falls away.
There will be plenty of time to worry about the Egyptian revolution. Building a true democracy is a huge task in an authoritarian country, and a military junta would seem singularly ill-equipped to lead the transition. For that reason, the army needs immediately to seek civilian partners for that process.
For now, the scenes in Cairo should inspire awe.
The people have awakened. Together in the public square, they have toppled a despot.
The status quo ultimately held little promise, for Egypt, the wider region or the West.
The risks now are great. But the greater risk would have been to have further stifled or suppressed the desire of the Egyptian people for a better, freer life. The people have spoken, giving hope, at last, that democracy will gain a major foothold in the Arab world.