Lessons from Egypt

Have you been watching the news coverage of Egypt’s national crisis? I can’t take my eyes off it. Seriously. I think I’ve watched CNN and BBC for at least five hours each of the past three days, my attention wrapped in the pictures, words and commentary. Even now, as I write, Wolf Blitzer is interviewing a western journalist who got caught among the pro-Mubarak protesters and was roughed up. Today’s violent response by pro-government, pro-Mubarak supporters proves yet again that dictators don’t go away without a fight. And few escape at all. Hosni Mubarak is a dictator. A spade is a spade and the pot is black. “Presidents for life” aren’t really presidents at all. Especially when they’ve been in power for 30 years and grooming their sons for continuing the reign. Oh, and banning all other political parties? Nice. Add to that soup of dictatorial goodness the military’s relative silence. Everyone’s waiting for the military to act ā€” to pick a side, any side. Do they support the president? Or do they protect the people? Wow. I’m fascinated.

Last month, another dictator was in the news when “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti after 25 years of exile. He had supporters at the airport waiting to greet him and received a royal welcome from certain sectors of Port-au-Prince. The world held its breath. Why was he returning now, after decades of exile to France? His legacy was torture, murder and corruption. Would he try to reclaim his spot during Haiti’s period of greatest weakness?

In the news this week were Jordan’s King Abdullah dismissing his government in favor of reform, Yemen’s president’s decision to not run again and not select his son as successor, and I just heard today of protests in Kuwait. People around the world want the right to determine who leads them and for how long. Dictators everywhere should be on guard, especially in the Middle East.

I love the United States of America. We have “million man marches,” too, but they are more social gatherings and not armed conflicts. As for governments being dismissed or the military having to choose between the president or the people? Doesn’t happen here. The branches of our government are bound by a balance of powers. In fact, I think the Supreme Court is the most respected government institution in the land (I respect both constructionist and constitutionalist justices). For our government to collapse… it would not be easy. I’m thankful to live in such a stable political system ā€” messed up as it may seem at times ā€” where transitions of power are peaceful and orderly. Where one party gains power only to lose it the next election cycle. Balance is a hallmark of our government.

What can we learn from Egypt? Maybe a little bit of thankfulness.