I wonder why we in the West have not been able to see this coming and build a bond with future generations, who instinctively are democratic minded and who will surely be important players for decades to come. Egyptians will have the satisfaction of knowing that they “did it” without our help. While we share their happiness, unfortunately their success is not our common success, unlike when the Berlin Wall fell. It’s all theirs. We have lost the opportunity to be that young generation’s best friends, because we did too little too late. Whatever the strength of the military, however complicated the political power structure, these young people are the heroes of the day, a force to be reckoned with, the true source of change. Transition will be a long and difficult process, but a failure of democratization will surely bring back this young crowds to Tahir Square.
Today is the beginning of a long and very difficult road. The West now has a second chance to show support to the people of Egypt and stand by real democratic reforms. This time we can’t be seen as hesitating. The U.S. and Europe must hold the military to its promise to hold free elections and help establish lasting democratic institutions.
After the elections we must, in our own best interest, offer a hand to the new leaders, in a non-paternalistic manner, in order to avoid that the first free elections of that country will also be the last. We must help Egypt get on its feet as soon as possible. We must be able to push back the usual urge in our societies to selfishly capitalize on change too quickly; we must hold the greed of our companies on a leash. The East European democracies can play a crucial role, with the huge recent experience of transition from dictatorship to democracy, from a state controlled economy to a market oriented one. We have amassed vast knowledge on what to do, and perhaps more importantly what not to do in this transition. Sharing the lessons learned from our successes and failures can prove to be invaluable for the people of Egypt.
We now have another chance to prove to them that we will stand by them in their quest for a viable democracy. There is hope still. All is not lost. We can still be a driving force but it calls for leadership in our democratic family. Let these last two weeks be a reminder to our own leaders that only a foreign policy based on the integrity of our interests and our values is one that will serve us long term. They have hopefully learned their lesson. We must have the wisdom and courage to admit what we did wrong in respect of tolerating the Mubarak regime for so long and not understanding the desire of the people. Finally we must not forget to also remind our leaders to send a thank you note to Facebook, Google, and CNN, who were wielding soft power when our governments failed to do the same.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the young men and women from Tahrir Square will not forget.