By Dan Farber
It took just 18 days to topple a government, a dictatorship with close ties to the U.S. that had ruled Egypt for three decades. Like all emerging democracies, the coming months will be messy and changes will evolve in fits and starts on the road to forming a new government, holding free elections and reviving the Egyptian economy.
What’s clear is that “people power,” inspired by reform protests in Tunisia, had been simmering in Egypt for far longer than 18 days, and it will have a lasting effect on the country and the region. Despite some uncertainty on the way forward with the Egyptian Army (which until February 11, 2011 answered to President Mubarak) in charge, there will be no going back to the old days when the paternalistic pharaoh ruled the land from his palaces and millions of his people lived on less than $2 per day.
For the rest of the world, Egypt has ignited a flame, one that wasn’t clearly visible until 18 days ago, that can now be seen by billions. In the New York Times, Tom Friedman wrote:
My guess right now is that there are a lot of worried kings and autocrats tonight – from North Africa to Myanmar to Beijing. And it is not simply because a dictator has been brought down by his people. That has happened before. It is because the way it was done is so easy to emulate. What made this Egyptian democracy movement so powerful is its legitimacy.
In Algeria, for example, police are gearing up to quash a demonstration slated for Saturday that takes its cues from the uprising in Egypt. As in Egypt, protesters want democratic reforms, a new government and jobs. Protesters in Yemen have been stirred up again by the recent event in Egypt, even after President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to some reforms and not to run for office in 2013.
With history as a guide, autocratic leaders aren’t typically inclined to bend to the will of the people, even if they take to the streets in large numbers. But in the 21st century, they are facing a new kind of power, one that cannot be easily contained and serves as a real-time witness to history, a youthful generation spreading words and images across the planet at lightspeed.
“They lied at us. Told us Egypt died 30 years ago, but millions of Egyptians decided to search and they found their country in 18 days,” tweeted Wael Ghonim, the reluctant face of Egypt’s protest, and now rebuilding, movement.