Any lessons from Egypt for the next dictatorship to fall? A February 12 post [zh] in the Chinese literary tradition of addressing a topic without mentioning it directly, from novelist and political commentator Yang Hengjun: ‘Farwell, Mubarak!’:
Now, we can strike yet another name off that list. Following his resignation under pressure from the people after 30 years in power, the “Mubarak era” is over. Although my heart has been with those Egyptians out on the streets over the past umpteen days, my “international knowledge” leaves me unable to feel any greater hatred for this name “Mubarak”, and I even feel a bit despondent: Can Egypt really do without Mubarak? Aren't Egypt and Mubarak one and the same?
Egypt, Mubarak, mummies, speaking at least for a student my age, there's no way to separate the three. The reality that we're seen as unable to change our views and the “facts” that Mubarak created himself tell us: this name “Mubarak” was able to keep the turbulent Middle East and North Africa region stable for a relatively long time. There was a time under Mubarak's rule of Egypt that the country saw extremely rapid economic growth, and what's more, Mubarak's government was one of the most secular regimes in the region. It was him that kept the Egyptian people clothed and fed, and brought stability; he joined the mummies as irreplaceable symbols of Egypt. Oh, Mubarak, this name which once bore the glory and dreams of the Egyptian people, and defined their image of that ancient state.
Egypt, as with Iraq and several East Asian nations, these are the longest-standing ancient civilization-states in human history, which is the reason why modern democratic ideals have clashed against the relatively stubborn “ancient civilization” in these states, making Egypt and other cradles of human civilization in the Middle East and East Asia a concentration of countries that are the last on the planet to begin democratization. However, Mubarak, this could have been a good chance for you to start over. And you should know, the grand tide of democratization at most can only be offset a mere few days, and can definitely no longer be held back. So why, in your thirty long years in power, did you never once change course, take the good advice, and use your authority to work with the people and usher in a new spring for your ancient civilization? Why did you blindly hold that off, resisting, saying absolutely no to reforms which wouldn't have just brought Egypt into a new era, but would have also given you a way out? Was it worth being rejected and forced to resign?
Mubarak once stood to bring Egyptians greater glory and dreams; if he hadn't been forced to step down as he was, even with the absolute power he held throughout his thirty years in power, he still could have spent his final years implementing political system reforms. If he had just gone along with popular will and taken the opportunity to listen to the good advice, he wouldn't have just left politics on a high note, he might even have been held up as a saint by the grateful Egyptian people, just like Americans did with George Washington. But now there's no hope for that, and his biggest mistake was in forgetting that which Dwight Eisenhower once told us: if all people want is to be fed and clothed, then they might as well just go to prison.
To be honest, given my limited international knowledge, I don't quite see that the Egyptian economy after today will grow faster than it did under your rule, or that the political system will be more stable, or society more “harmonious”—these having long been your reasons and excuses for not relinquishing total power and returning it to the people or for implementing reforms, also the main reasons America has always supported you—however, if you were to, say, have some of your own historical knowledge, then you would see clearly that regardless of how much pain and torment it's already been through, Egypt from this day forth will never return to the “Mubarak era”, and also that the public are gradually realizing that from this day forth, chaos which occurs during the democratic transition will not be the result of Mubarak's departure, but rather due to the fact that you ruled Egypt for too long! Farewell, Mubarak!
When I was still at university, I spent the time researching and reciting the ways you governed your people, led them to war, provided for their basic sustenance, used your own methods with Egyptian characteristics to build a harmonious society. Even today, my son is now at university and he too is studying your textbook. But now, the Egyptian people have finally stood up and given you, indeed the whole world, the most important lesson thus far on how to govern a country: illegitimate regimes end up illegitimate, no matter how many impressive reasons you put forward, no matter how smooth-tongued you are, no matter how big your army is. As for you, old fellow, this class looks to be your last. But for that small number of countries in this world and those who hold total power over them, school isn't out yet. I truly do hope you'll have an opportunity to discuss everything you learned in this class, and perhaps leave something useful behind in this world.
In just eighteen days, the people took to the streets, and the state of affairs suddenly changed. During this time, you must have hesitated, and fretted, possibly even considered sending down the order to shoot at the people, and then in the end, all you wanted was for the people to give you more time, even if just a few months. Some say you hoped to use this time to plan your escape, transferring your family and the loot from the corrupt interest groups you protect, preparing a soft landing for when you transfered power. But I'm seeing a different picture, you might even say a fantasy: that of a man in his eighties, spending the last umpteen days struggling to hold onto power, perhaps because you suddenly realized the truth, and now you regret it? And then, clinging to your last bit of authority, you do one last little thing for your people, and return their freedom and right to fair elections. But then also one last thing for yourself: having allowed the people their dream, you leave with honor, possibly even earning a place in history?
But now, it's too late! You've had thirty full years, but you gave the Egyptian people no chance, and now, nor will they give one to you, even if just an extra day, you just don't deserve it.
Because you stepped down, it feels like Valentine's Day came early this year, reminding some of the people living in this country which smells of mummies, that each and every one of us has a date lined up, with freedom, democracy, and a better life.
Farewell, you Mubaraks!