Here's the full version of my article that is in today's Scotland on Sunday.
So the pharaoh is no more. In the end, the people did not require to part the sea. The shining miracle which was produced in Egypt this time was eighteen days of spectacular struggle by a people who had
been cowed for decades.
They came out when they knew critics of the regime were liable to ‘disappear’. They faced down and defeated the pro-Mubarak thugs on the streets over a period of a few days. And in the end, they fashioned for themselves a beautiful movement which will live on in the memory the world over. Now to build the promised land of democracy.
This is the Arab world’s 1989 moment. Dictators came tumbling down across eastern Europe that year, culminating in the Berlin wall falling. Tyrants across the Middle East are quaking at what has happened in Tunisia and now Egypt. And when it comes to separation walls coming down, the self-styled “only democracy in Middle East” Israel has been remarkably quiet on events over its border despite the fact they should be comforted by the principle that democracies don't go to war on one another.
The worry was that the 1989 parallel we were going to make was that Tahrir Square was Tiananmen Square. Democracy, free speech and human rights could have died for another generation if Egyptians hadn’t proved themselves more stubborn than Hosni Mubarak.
There are so many individual heroes whose stories have yet to be properly told and popularised. In a region which has been beset by the phenomenon of suicide bombings, it is the suicide of a Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire outside his local governer’s office that has ignited a force for good here. He had been trampled upon by offialdom once too many times and was as mad as hell and couldn’t take it any more. He lit more than the fire on himself, and the flame is spreading across the region.
This was eventually bound to happen. Repression cannot last forever and the natural state for people to live is in freedom with leaders accountable to the people. States move forward when the people have a stakehold in their country and can contribute to its success. Presidents brutally holding power for decade upon decade can only lead to stagnancy and that is what the Arab world has been languishing in for too long. An injection of new ideas is badly needed.
This is what makes the position of the west in supporting these regimes for as long as they did absolutely criminal. Tony Blair, who holidayed in Egypt as Hosni’s guest, even during the uprisings was stressing the need for “stability”. This from the man who unleashed hell on Iraq but says it was worthwhile because Saddam was toppled and democracy installed.
I remember doing television interviews at the time of the protests against the Iraq war. The usual stock question we’d get asked is why we were supporting Saddam. My answer was that we weren’t, and what we should do instead is stop supporting dictators in the Middle East and allow the people to rise up themselves and establish democracy. This met with guffaws, but has proven to be correct. And had Saddam still been in power today he would be going or gone by now. It would have happened in an organic way which the people won and built themselves. And it would have happened without blowing apart millions of lives.