Yesterday, while I was wishing I had a brick wall that I could thump my head against (more on that in another post), Hosni Mubarak finally crumbled in Egypt.
It took just 30 seconds to announce the end of a 30-year old dictatorship, as Al Jazeera wrote in its live blog for February 11. Someone I know sent out a general “spread the joy” email in which they pointed out February 11 is one helluva date because it’s the day the Islamic Revolution was victorious in Iran and it’s also the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. The subtext of this email was obviously, “Whoopeeee!” Except the Islamic Revolution established a theocracy in Iran in 1979 and the system that has been in place since then hasn’t been worth much chest-thumping. So really, the revolution is far from over and if the Egyptians think it is, then it may well turn out that they’ll find that they have exchanged one dictatorship for another. (Incidentally, apparently there’s little coverage of the Egyptian revolution in Iran. Yesterday BBC was blocked by the state.)
Considering how ruthlessly and completely the “Green Revolution” was crushed, smothered and buried in Iran in 2009-10, the Egyptians’ success at removing Mubarak is heartwarming. When Mubarak’s resignation was announced, crowds cheered deafeningly in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and people around the world went berserk on Twitter and Facebook because, apparently, deep inside each one of us is an Egyptian (and we can blame the Bangles for this). Pentagram’s Vishal Dadlani exultantly tweeted that the band had a rocking concert in Guwahati and Egypt became “free” on the same night! Then he wrote, “All it took was 18 days, and that the Egyptian people stood up for their rights. Come on India, you can do it!!” I want to ask him, do what precisely? Usher in a military regime? Because, while everyone around the world exhausts their Mubarak puns joyously, it is the military that has stepped in. Not that I’m a fan of dictatorships, but I’m equally unenamoured by military regimes and their promises to help a country transition into democracy. Yes of course it’s being described as a short-term solution but if you want a reminder of how the military can cling to power, look at Pakistan.
So as great as it is to see all the pictures of triumphant protesters, let’s not delude ourselves that this was some sort of civilian triumph. It may be a civilian triumph if Egypt doesn’t wind up being a military dictatorship in the long term. At the moment, however, 18 days of civilian protests gave the military the opportunity to topple Hosni Mubarak and take complete control of Egypt. That’s not freedom.