As I have lived my entire adult life preparing for freedom behind the Iron Curtain — and, fortunately, lived to see the successful transition from dictatorship to democracy — perhaps I and my peers in this part of the world can comment on the events in Egypt with some authority, albeit a modest and cautious one.
The departure of Mubarak is a victory for democracy, but it is hardly a victory for the democratic West. Our governments and institutions failed miserably in the context of the Egypt revolution. This is not just an American failure. Even if Europe’s public opinion and media would be so happy to blame it on the “clumsy Americans,” it’s a shared shortcoming. On average our collective score is a C- — including the new democracies of Eastern and Central Europe, who in just twenty years seem to have forgotten their own recent history, along with their responsibility for the freedom of others. They look at events now as something distant that does not concern them.
It is right to remember: If Ronald Reagan had opted for stability versus our freedom, we would not have gotten rid of the communist dictatorships in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Albania and elsewhere in 1989. If Mark Palmer, the U.S. ambassador in Budapest at the time, had not pressed his government to understand our sentiments, had he not supported change even in the face of caution and the status quo in some circles in Washington, we would now be stuck in a revitalized, rejuvenated authoritarian Soviet bloc. And of course, I would not be sitting in a free Budapest writing these lines. I believe that freedom and democracy are the natural forms of existence for mankind, not dictatorship. No doubt, in 1989 we all came out as winners as a result of bold and courageous leadership, which decided to opt for democracy and radical change versus stability. The transatlantic community is now whole and free.
That courage of the eighties was absent over the last two weeks! Our indecision almost led Egypt to civil war and the region to disaster. For two weeks I have been having a Berlin Wall feeling, but while I was hearing a crescendo, the strong voice of Western leaders in support of the crowds in Tahir Square was nowhere to be heard. Thursday night I was glued to CNN like the rest of the world, holding my breath to see Mubarak’s theatrical exit. His speech infuriated the demonstrators in Tahrir Square; he poured oil on the fire. The determination of the crowds was underestimated by Mubarak — and the free world. They failed to realize who these young people are: well-educated, internet literate, open-minded, and out of work. Their hopes were and are pinned to a democracy and a real market economy, to lift them out of their misery. They have bravely defied the regime and by yesterday afternoon Mubarak was gone.