As the dictators fall, the clichés fall, too. Cairo and Tunis and Tripoli are littered with the shards of platitudes about what is possible and what is impossible in Arab societies, in closed societies. Civilizational analysis lies in ruins. Idealism, always cheaply mocked, turns out to be a powerful form of historical causation, as disruptive of the established order as any economic or technological change, and even more beneficent.
“This violence must stop.” So President Obama declared the other day about the depravity in Tripoli. This “must” is a strange mixture of stridency and passivity. It is the deontic locution familiar from the editorial pages of newspapers, where people who have no power to change the course of events demand that events change their course. This “must” denotes an order, or a permission, or an obligation, or a wish, or a will. It does not denote a plan. It includes no implication, no expectation, of action.
For years, those obsessed with forcing Israel to make all kinds of concessions to the Palestinians—on territory, on settlements, on refugees, on Jerusalem, on security, on water, on air space, on everything, in fact—argued that the occupation was the powder keg on which the kings and colonels of the Arab world sat waiting for it to explode. This was and is a curiously Judeo-centric perspective on the world.
The powers that be in Israel clamped a deafening silence on themselves when the Egyptian people rose up against Hosni Mubarak. There was precious little that Israel could do to sway events in one direction or the other, since this revolution did not have its origins in issues related to the foreign, strategic, or defense policies of Cairo.
The labor fight in Wisconsin may appear divisive, but fortunately, both sides can agree on the metaphor and who represents which side: Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the budget committee in the House, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison these days.” ... Former Representative David Obey of Wisconsin on Thursday accused Mr.
The revolution will always be harmonized. If no song in itself can change the world, revolutionary change usually happens to music, as it is today in the Middle East. News feeds from Tahrir Square and now from Tehran have been capturing streets full of young people singing anthems of uprising, just as eighteenth-century revolutionaries sang in Paris and Philadelphia. In Cairo, the song that emerged quickly as the semi-official anthem of the revolution is “Long Live Egypt,” a buoyant, gently hip-hoppish pop tune by the Egyptian group Scarabeuz and Omima.
Dictatorships fear nothing quite like they fear a mob in the streets. In Tunis and Cairo, however, it was not mobs that gathered but crowds. Non-violent crowds, thoughtful crowds. Alas, there were some 300 dead among the protestors. So this was not exactly a costless revolution in terms of human life. Still, the dynamics that unfolded in Tahrir Square were rooted in peaceful communications. In many ways this was a re-enactment of the Committees of Correspondence. These were initiated in 1773 by Dabney Carr, an intimate of Thos.
For nearly three weeks as I watched the exhilarating news coming from Cairo, I had in my head four great canvases by Delacroix that hang forbiddingly in the Grande Galerie at the Louvre: The Massacre at Scio, The Bark of Dante, The Death of Sardanapalus, Liberty Leading the People.Each of them is a passionate semblance of the threat of death or of death itself. I cannot imagine anyone who has seen these impressions ever having them completely out of his head. I know the images in the Dante very well because I happen to have in my house a Cezanne oil study of the Delacroix original.
Cairo, Egypt—Early Thursday evening, Tahrir Square was full of optimism. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was going to address the nation, and everyone was debating what he was going to say. People had heard he was going to resign; they thought the movement that has swept Egypt for the last 17 days, shutting down the country, might finally have succeeded. There was a carnival-like atmosphere: People hugged, wrung each other’s hands, bought popcorn and tea from vendors, chanted, and sang songs. It was a high point for the protest community that has taken root in the heart of Cairo.
The spread of democracy around the world is a natural American aspiration, but sometimes the sincerity of that aspiration is tested by the disruptions of democratization. The astonishing events in Egypt are such a test. They are so thrilling in their purpose and so unclear in their outcome. They provoke exhilaration and anxiety. But they demonstrate to a new generation that the democratic longing is itself one of history’s most powerful causes.