The news is full of Egypt, and it's got my interest up (so far up in fact I've started using Twitter ( @OverHimself). You could ask why I should care, I'm a hell of a long way from Cairo, living in my safe democracy and totally unaffected by Egyption politics. Only I'm not.
Well, OK, I am those first two, but I'm not unaffected, and in more than just a John Donne "no man is an island" way. The largest part of UK and US foreign policy in recent years is focused on an area from Libya to Pakistan, add in the worries in the Home Office around arab-led, islamist motivated terrorism, and the interdependence created by global trade and this is all of our business. We get to take sides.
My horse, and I just hope she lives up to her form, is with people power. Mubarak and his party have ruled Egypt for 30 years. They have ruled under emergency law for most of that time; they have fixed elections and banned opposition parties and cracked down on dissent. They have provided stability and a degree of economic success. It's the old trade off, freedom from (poverty, hunger etc) at the cost of freedom to (speak, act, protest etc), and that is why the word bread is key in protesters' chants, once you stop providing the one, people will demand the other. The power of people protest is huge, and as I type this various sources are suggesting the government may have fallen.
If true this is a massive leap forward. The victory will belong to the people of Egypt, not to the Muslim Brotherhood, or other groups whose direction comes from Mecca and whose sympathy lies with Al Qaeda. The young, hopeful-looking protesters are talking of democracy and freedom, led by their experience and contact online with citizens of liberal democracies. It will shake up the region. The stabilizing effect of a relativly moderate and benign dictatorship in Egypt has probably prevented wars and moderated intifadas in Israel and Palestine. A democratic Egypt may not have this effect at first. But Angela Merkel had it right, the stability of Egypt is important, but not at the expense of the freedom of Egyptians.
A liberal democracy may not be as reliable a friend as a pocket dictatorship, but in the long run I would rather have a democracy who disagrees with us than a dictatorship always at our side. Democracy tends to moderate policy, it tends to allow rationality a stronger voice, diversity, culture, interaction and peace are all cherished more in democracies, where they are needed than in dictatorships where they can be replaced by a poster of the president. And democracy spreads. Democracy in Egypt could lead to democracy in Jordan, in Syria, in Libya, if all of those happens, even the House of Saud might be shifting uncomfortably in their thrones. And that would give us a more stable, more peaceful, more free world.
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