We are experiencing a key moment in world history, in the light of which the events in Tunisia – as vital as they were for the Egyptian revolution – seem like a mere overture, writes Stefan Weidner
"The Egyptians have inspired us," said Obama in his speech on Friday (11 February). He was visibly relieved. In the face of Mubarak's intransigence, it had seemed as if the US had either lost all influence over him or, even worse, had not been using it.
Since last Friday, Egypt has been ruled not by Vice-President Omar Suleiman, who was still being lauded as the great white hope only a week ago, but by the military in the form of a "Higher Military Council" that has so far distinguished itself by issuing three statements. In the end, Suleiman's only task was to announce that Mubarak had stepped down.
In his speech on Thursday (10 February), Mubarak made no mention of resignation, but chose instead to focus on his achievements. That enraged the demonstrators so much that the situation threatened to explode and the army was forced to have Mubarak's resignation announced, so to speak.
A "doctorate in stubbornness"
It is worth noting that so far, Mubarak himself has not announced his resignation, at least not in public. He has adhered to the "doctorate in stubbornness" of which he has always boasted. It was the people and the army who ejected him from his throne.
Could a general in civilian clothing make a promising presidential candidate, as some commentators have assumed? The military's third statement – which said that the council had only taken over power temporarily, and that there is no legitimacy other than that of the people – seems to suggest that this is unlikely.
No matter what may happen in the future, the feeling of having achieved something considered impossible only at the beginning of the year is overpowering, not only among Egyptians.
We are experiencing a key moment in world history, in the light of which the events in Tunisia – as vital as they were for the Egyptian revolution – seem like a mere overture. Yet to what is the new Egypt the overture?
Pan-Arab power surge
One of the first sentiments noted by almost all Arab commentators on Friday night was a pan-Arab power surge, the like of which had not been experienced since Gamal Abdel Nasser's triumph in the 1956 Suez Crisis. Tunisia passes the baton to Egypt, which passes it to Jordan, which passes it to Lebanon, which passes it to the Gulf states, which pass it to the Gaza Strip…
Pan-Arabism is not pan-Islamism. There is nothing evangelical about it. It gives birth to pride and confidence, but not to fanaticism. It might just have what it takes to inoculate Arab societies against the temptations of political Islam.
For Europe, a revival of pan-Arabism would therefore not present a problem; and yet it would for Israel. No democratically legitimised government in the Arab world can afford the conciliation towards Israel that has so distinguished the authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt in the eyes of the West.
Even as early as Friday night, the voices on the street captured by reporters all over the Arab world included talk of Palestine having to be freed now.
Marshall Plan for Arab democracies
If the Israelis are wise, they will make peace with the Palestinians while the Egyptians are still occupied with themselves. The wind blowing in their direction can only get harsher as time passes. Yet it would not necessarily be a bad thing if Israel were prepared to make long-overdue concessions to the Palestinians on the basis of a realistic assessment of the altered situation.
The actual test – i.e. proving itself under free democratic conditions – still lies ahead for the Egyptians and all those inspired by them. The admirable peaceful nature of the protests, the lack of fanatical tones and ideological entanglements augur well.
The major obstacle is the country's catastrophic economic situation, which even the cleverest government will not be able to improve in the coming years to the extent needed to ensure for stable conditions.
Which is why the West must step in now. With a Marshall Plan for the nascent democracies in the Arab world, the Europeans and Americans can prove how much stability is worth to them in the Middle East.
© Qantara.de 2011
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire
Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de