Thursday, February 03, 2011

On the Tightrope

First, an explanation and a correction. We've been doing some traveling, and it's a bit impolite to use up your time as a guest trying to beat together a blog for the entire world (in theory). Now we're back. And the song I referred to last week isn't "Swing, Swing, Swing", but "Sing, Sing, Sing". There are so many dancing baby elephant commercials on these days that I want to avoid any confusion.

Oh, and there's the matter of the Superbowl. This year, the NFL has managed to sell some tickets that are at the stadium (in Dallas), but do not afford the ticket holder an actual view of the game. These little ducats go for $200 each! They must fit under the category of "How NOT to impress your date". I think I'll pass.

But this week's main spectator sport centers on Egypt and its future government. We begin with the question "What starts a revolution?" It's not an easy one to answer. The North American British colonies were both lightly taxed and lightly governed, but had a revolution anyway. Iraq had a dictator, as do many other countries today who still see no real need to change things, or at least not enough to risk their own neck in the effort.
The proof that this is a tricky business comes from places like Cuba. We were sure that a little invasion from ex-locals would bring down the Castro government. The result? The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, an old Eisenhower era plot that Kennedy failed to squash. Half a century later, Fidel Castro is headed for a soft landing to his lifelong legacy.
Why does Mubarek's one-party democracy in Egypt go along pretty smoothly for almost thirty years, and only then break down in the face of lightly armed but determined opposition? We pay enormous dollars to the CIA (and other spook agencies) to get us answers to questions like this, but they don't know, either.
One thing I notice is that when these revolts finally start rolling, they're almost impossible to stop. The Czar couldn't stop the Bolsheviks, the Shah of Iran couldn't stop the Islamists, and even French royalty was no match for the ragtag forces of the French Revolution, who correctly realized that they had literally nothing to lose by reaching for their pitchforks and clubs. Someone might have told Mubarek that naming a vice president and offering to NOT run for reelection wouldn't be enough to get the folks back in line. Now he can't even depend on his army to dependably slaughter the rebels in Cairo.
The situation is pretty fluid, and the US, on the tightrope between standing up for real democracy and losing an ally in a difficult part of the world, has to be content just observing, dealing with whoever comes out the winner, as we did when the Filipinos decided that they had finally had enough of Marcos and his family. Egypt has no oil to speak of, but they do have close to 100 million people and some status as a center of Islamic culture. They deserve better than what they've had. Maybe we could do our part by offering Mubarek a retirement home in the US. Think he'd like Nevada?


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