[Akhnaten - the biggest revolutionary of all time]
One can't help but wonder if this is merely a coup from the streets or whether it is a real revolution. My sense is that it is on the verge of becoming one. One recalls that both the French and American Revolutions were initially about taxes. And only later did they lead to the transformation of European society and the founding of a new state in North America.
What makes this seem more like a revolution and less like a coup, is that it is spreading. The Tunisian government has been overthrown, and the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Yemeni governments are in peril. There was even a mention of unrest in Syria, perhaps the most iron-fisted police state in the world. The Palestinian Authority has announced elections while it still can.
I saw some experts on Charlie Rose last night and after some commonplaces and banalities they agreed that there is no knowing what will happen. My own prediction is that whatever happens, it will be something no one expected. When the Shah was overthrown by liberals and reformers, who would have predicted it would lead to an Islamic Republic? When Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General, who could have foreseen his deCapet-ation? Or the Terror? Or Napoleon? When the Duma first assembled, who could have foreseen Stalin and the Gulag and the Five Year Plans?
What is not mentioned in the news is how big a deal this is. Egypt today has more than 70 millions of people. That is more people than Britain or France. More people live in the city of Cairo than live in the country of Israel. Egypt is the center and fulcrum of the Middle East.
What is mentioned is that the Egyptian government is almost certainly undone, but the wrong or no reasons are given for believing that. The underlying premise of government is that it has a monopoly on the use of force. When the troops fraternize and refuse orders to coerce the opponents of the government, it ceases to govern. Governing is about giving orders that will be obeyed. When the Tunisian police and army refused to fire on the demonstrators, Ben Ali had a one-way ticket out of the country. The same was true of the French and Russian Revolutions. When the troops refuse orders and fraternize the government is overthrown that very day. That is precisely how Napoleon came to power. The French army had repeatedly fraternized with the crowds they were sent to disperse. And each time the government fell. After all the changes of revolutionary governments Napoleon was the first commander whose troops were loyal enough to him to fire on the Paris mob. Whereupon his path from brigadier to emperor opened before him.
The Egyptian army has already fraternized with crowds it was sent to control. The army is now giving the demonstrations a wide berth between them and the soldiers. That is not just to protect the demonstrators. It enables the officers to avoid giving orders that the soldiers might not obey.
That is one thing one can predict, Charlie Rose experts or none. When the troops fraternize with demonstrators, the president will shortly thereafter leave the country. A classic example of this is the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. The army was called out to restore order in Lisbon. Crowds marched out of the city to greet them. The demonstrators put carnations in the barrels of the soldiers' rifles. They marched into Lisbon as heroes of the Revolution in a sea of carnations. This was especially vexing to the Portuguese ruler because Estoril, the beautiful seaside town and once the favorite home of overthrown dictators, is in Portugal so he had nowhere to flee.
The obvious risk everywhere is of the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood / Hamas. Under the Tsarist government, all but token opposition was broken up and disbanded. Only the illegal underground parties, particularly the Bolsheviks, had strong political organizations. When the Tsar fell, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were the only well-organized political force in the country. Unwittingly the Tsarist government had cleared the ground for them.
It seems possible that a similar situation may prevail in Egypt even as we speak. The Mubarak regime may have disbanded or neutered every political organization but the illegal and brutally suppressed Muslim Brotherhood. And it may well be the strongest political force in Egypt on account of it. Like the Tsarist regime, they may have unwittingly cleared the Egyptian political scene of everyone else.
The one large difference between Russia in 1917 and Egypt today is the army. In 1917 the Russian army had been defeated and ground to tatters by three long years of World War I. The Russian revolution can be seen as an afterthought to the mass desertion of the Russian Imperial Army. The Egyptian army today is intact. But as we have seen, it is clearly neither reliable nor trusted. Yet it is the main path to the future, both Egypt's and ours, that does not lead through a long period of Islamization, sharia law, and a fundamental turning away from modernity.
Ironically the public demand for freedom and accountability could lead to Egypt in effect being conquered from within by precisely those forces most inimical to freedom and accountability.