FOR ALL the elation aroused by yesterday’s dramatic ending of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign, his departure is only the curtain-fall to Act 1 of the Egyptian revolution.
What comes next will determine whether Egyptians attain the multi-party democracy, rule of law, civil liberties, and economic opportunities for which they rebelled. If the transition is not managed the right way, the outcome could be a veneer of civilian democracy disguising a military regime — with generals exercising power behind the scenes and retaining control of valuable economic assets.
If genuine democracy is to be achieved, the supreme military council that has taken charge of the government will have to cooperate with the main strands of opposition in mapping out the road ahead — and setting a calendar for constitutional reforms and elections. Establishing a quick pace of reforms will be crucial because most of the young rebels who brought off the Egyptian revolution are unattached to political parties. Those young Egyptians must be given a chance to organize independent parties to compete with the older parties in clean elections.
The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have exposed the inherent instability of authoritarian regimes. Given Washington’s close partnerships with those regimes, President Obama’s primary objective must be to demonstrate support for the freedom movement of Egyptians. He made a solid gesture yesterday by saluting “the power of human dignity’’ and “the moral force of nonviolence’’ exhibited by the Egyptian revolutionaries. Now America must become their ally, helping them build democratic institutions.
For now, that means pressing military leaders to give newly formed parties the free-speech rights and unfettered access to media they need to rally their members for a presidential election that should not be delayed beyond September. Even then, it may be a long time before Egypt is a stable democracy. But for as long as it takes, America must be a helpful midwife to this revolution.
Democracy is worth it.