It was hopeless. Even the mighty United States was impotent when faced with this tsunami of popular outrage.
In the end it settled for second best: a pro-Western military dictatorship. But will this really be the outcome?
WHEN CONFRONTED with a new situation, Obama's first response is generally admirable. Then, it seems, second thoughts set in. And third. And fourth. The end result is a 180-degree turn.
When the masses started to gather in Tahrir Square, he reacted exactly like most decent people in the US and, indeed, throughout the world. There was unbounded admiration for those brave young men and women who faced the dreaded Mukhabarat secret police, demanding democracy and human rights.
How could one not admire them? They were non-violent, their demands were reasonable, their actions were spontaneous, they obviously expressed the feelings of the vast majority of the people. Without any organization to speak of, without leadership, they said and did all the right things.
Such a sight is rare in history. No sansculottes screaming for blood, no cold-minded Bolsheviks lurking in the shadows, no Ayatollahs dictating their actions in the name of God.
So Obama loved it. He did not hide his feelings. He practically called on the dictator to give up and go away. If Obama had stayed this course, the result would have been historic. From being the most hated power in the Arab world, the US would have electrified the Arab masses, the Muslim region, indeed much of the Third World. It could have been the beginning of a completely new era.
I believe that Obama sensed this. His first instincts are always right. In such a situation, a real leader -- that rarest of all animals -- stands out.
BUT THEN came the second thoughts. Small people started to work on him. Politicians, generals, "security experts," diplomats, pundits, lobbyists, business leaders, all the "experienced" people -- experienced in routine affairs -- started to weigh in. And, of course, the hugely powerful Israel lobby.
"Are you crazy?"--they admonished him. To forsake a dictator who happens to be our son-of-a-b*tch? To tell all our client dictators around the world that we shall forsake them in their hour of need? How naÃ¯ve can you get? Democracy in an Arab country? Don't make us laugh! We know the Arabs! You show them democracy on a platter and they would not know it from baked beans! They always need a dictator to keep them in shape! Especially these Egyptians! Ask the British!
The whole thing is really a conspiracy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Look them up on Google! They are the only alternative. It's either Mubarak or them. They are the Egyptian Taliban, worse, the Egyptian al-Qaeda. Help the well-meaning democrats to overthrow the regime, and before you know it you will have a second Iran, with an Egyptian Ahmadinejad on Israel's Southern border, hooking up with Hezbollah and Hamas. The dominos will begin to fall, starting with Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Faced with all these experts, Obama caved in. Again.
OF COURSE, every single one of these arguments can easily be refuted.
Let's start with Iran. The naÃ¯ve Americans, so the story goes, forsook the Shah and his dreaded Israeli-trained secret police in order to promote democracy, but the revolution was taken over by the Ayatollahs. A cruel dictatorship was replaced by an even crueler one. This is what Binyamin Netanyahu said this week, warning that the same is inevitably bound to happen in Egypt.
But the true Iranian story is quite different.
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