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by Peter Moskos

January 28, 2011

Revolution in Egypt

Inshallah, Hosni Mubarak, the latest in a long line of Egyptian Pharaohs, will soon be history.

I think about Egypt more than most people. My wife studied in Cairo and speaks Arabic, I've visited Egypt three times, and one of my best friends here in New York is Egyptian-American, from Alexandria. He hates Mubarak, of course, and what Egyptian wouldn't? He's a bastard dictator and has been for decades.

How has Mubarak remained in power for so long? In large part because we give him billions of dollars a year. It started as a bribe to make peace with Israel. Do most Americans even think about the consequences of supporting bad rulers? Egyptians and Arabs don't hate our freedom. But perhaps they should hate us for preventing them from having freedom. Egypt has been under "emergency rule" since 1981. It's amazing they don't hate us more.

Dictators can fall regardless of what the US knows or does. After supporting Saddam Hussein for so long, the US invaded Iraq. And for what? He would have fallen eventually, too. We just made the country worse.

In terms of foreign policy, this is yet another strong case for us doing less, not more. We get a lot wrong. And since we as a country don't have as much control as we like to think we do, we might as well support democracy. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but at least we would be on the moral high ground.

Also, watching pictures of riot police shoot at people and also get routed is a good time to be remember and be thankful that police in the US are civilians--city workers and not soldiers or government agents--even if sometimes everybody forgets this important fact.

And assuming Mubarak falls (which is a wonderful assumption), will Obama get credit for change in the Middle-East just like Reagan gets credit for the fall of Communism? They're both equally deserving. Did not Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo spark the whole democratic movement? I doubt it. But then neither did Reagan. (And did Obama really just say that Mubarak is not a dictator? Of course he's a dictator. The only question is how bad of dictator he is.)

If the US doesn't know which side to be on, why not be on the side against corrupt dictators? Who will replace Mubarak? Who knows. Will the next leader be better or worse than Mubarak? Who knows. But that's no reason not to wish for Mubarak's fall. And shame on us for supporting Mubarak for so long, pretending he wasn't a bad man.

Mubarak is speaking right now and doesn't seem to be saying much at all. But he's not stepping down. And he looks healthier than I expected.

The man of the year, perhaps the decade, could be a humble unemployed university graduate, Mohammed Bouazizi.

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