Obviously I can’t claim to be entirely neutral about these events. I’ve been looking forward to a major popular uprising ever since I first went to Egypt in 1990. My experience in Iraq has made me a little more appreciate of stability, even stagnant corrupt autocratic stability, but there is something exhilarating about people taking to the streets challenging a security apparatus and a regime which for so long has treated them as petulant children, unfit to have a voice in the governance of their country.
I realize that revolutions have a way of working out badly, with an ideologically committed group in power that is worse and harder to dislodge than the outgoing wishy-washy autocrat. But, assuming that Mubarak goes, I don’t think that this will happen in Egypt. Everyone remembers 1917 and 1979 because they were terrible national tragedies. Far more common, at least in the past two decades, has been a popular uprising that leads to a more liberal system.
The Iranian revolution in particular is the one that seems to be giving a lot of pause to Americans. But while both uprising involve massive popular demonstrations in a Muslim country, the parallels begin to end there.
First, the Khomeinists were in a leadership position in the Iranian revolution from the very beginning. Other groups jumped on board their bandwagon, much more than the other way around. Even if we assume that the Muslim Brothers are indeed still a radical vanguard movement that is geared up organizationally and psychologically to seize power through a putsch, and I don’t necessarily think that we can make that assumption, they were very much wrong-footed by the Egyptian uprising, and certainly can’t make any claim to leadership or ownership.
More importantly, I doubt that Egypt will not follow the same path as the Iranian revolution is… the Iranian revolution. Egyptians and Arabs in general are very much aware of how awful that theocracy has become, and will be extremely wary of any attempt by the Brothers, or any other religious group, of taking power into its own hands. If there was a major constituency out there on the streets demanding an Islamic state, then the Brothers could simply say that they were acting according to the will of the majority. But there isn’t, and they can’t.
Anyway, these impressions may change once I get to move around Cairo a bit. I’ll try not to let this sense of exhilaration shape my perceptions, but the reader has been warned.