The revolution in Egypt was not prompted by the economy. The Egyptian economy’s state improved in the past decade, poverty declined, and the number of workers in the agricultural sector went down.
The unemployment rate of young Egyptians indeed frustrated them and pushed them to the streets, yet there was one fundamental motive for the uprising: A sense that the leadership is detached from the public, doesn’t listen to it, and doesn’t engage in any dialogue with it; a leadership that is withdrawn and is far removed from the problems faced by the middle class, and especially its lower end.
The first lesson of the Egyptian uprising is that the absence of dialogue with the public ultimately brings down rulers, including the most powerful ones. There’s no obligation to agree to the demands, which are sometimes odd, that emerge from the public squares, including the ones online. Yet the rulers must listen to them, with attentive ears and an open mind.
The second lesson of the uprising is that non-violence pays off. The leaders of the protest in Cairo adopted, either openly or covertly, the non-violent struggle doctrine developed by American thinker Gene Sharp. Back in the 1970s, Dr. Sharp started to formulate practical rules for toppling dictators using non-violent means. He later founded the Albert Einstein Institute, which operates out of a small Boston apartment yet affects protest movements worldwide.
The pioneers of non-violent revolutions based their efforts to a large extent on the guides produced and disseminated by Sharp, ranging from the toppling of Greece’s military rule through the shift to democracy in Spain and Portugal, Communism’s collapse throughout Europe, the student uprising in Tehran in 2009, and the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. It is for good reason that Sharp is a regular target for reckless attacks by spokespeople in Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and recently China and Syria as well.
The victory of non-violent uprising in Tunisia and Egypt is not only a stable basis for future democracy; it also constitutes a grave blow for al-Qaeda and Global Jihad groups that raise the banner of violent holy war. As it turned out, no regime is immune to non-violent masses.
More revolutions coming
The third lesson from Egypt is that the shift from banning freedom of speech and assembly to fully allowing them can take place in one day. The old regime is going home, the ruler is heading to exile, people stop fearing, censorship crumbles, and the normal democratic bargaining begins. The ease with which the walls of political prisons crumbled (20 days of protests were enough!) proves how weak they were.
Democracy functions immediately upon its establishment, and the next revolutions will therefore take root in the Middle East shortly. The rulers in Syria, Libya, Morocco, Iran and Sudan have already realized that the process is irreversible. They are completing the preparation of their escape routes.
However, the quick path to democracy is not the quick path to socioeconomic prosperity. Look at Egypt: The forces that will contend in the democratic elections will have to respond to a series of tough questions: What to do with an army whose size and budget is double of what is required? How to dismantle the ineffective government corporations and corrupt regime of licenses and franchises? What to do with the millions who were employed by the ruling party – do we forget about the past or embark on mass purges? How do we fight the great unemployment, especially among educated young people? How do we turn Egypt into a modern, liberal and competitive economy that is integrated into the global economy, without intolerably deepening the socioeconomic gaps?
The economic damages caused by longtime dictatorships can only be ameliorated through a long-term healing process. Greece, Spain and Portugal are suffering to this day from the leftovers of fascistic, oppressive regimes. In the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovenia the socioeconomic revolution took a decade. In Belarus and Serbia the process has not yet succeeded.
And this is the fourth lesson of the Egyptian uprising: Residents of the Middle East, who longed for democracy so much, will not wait with infinite patience for its economic fruit. This is the danger, and this is where the West’s urgent help is required.
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