It is wrongheaded for the US to abandon allies on a whim, because then what is being a US ally worth? Nonetheless, we apparently see some of that going on. Tom Friedman joins his colleague Nick Kristoff (they are both wondering what Hu is thinking) in celebrating the 2011 media phenomenon of Twitter revolutions:
to be in Tahrir Square tonight, to feel the energy and pride of a people taking back the keys to their country and their future from a tired old dictator, was a privilege. As a group of men who had commandeered a horse and buggy bellowed as they crossed the Nile Bridge: “Hold your head up high. You are Egyptians.’’
My guess right now is that there are a lot of worried kings and autocrats tonight -– from North Africa to Myanmar to Beijing. And it is not simply because a dictator has been brought down by his people. That has happened before. It is because the way it was done is so easy to emulate. What made this Egyptian democracy movement so powerful is its legitimacy.
It was started by youth and enabled by Facebook and Twitter. It was completely non-violent and only resorted to stone-throwing when faced with attacks by regime thugs. It drew on every segment of the Egyptian population. There was a huge flag in Tahrir Square today with a Muslim crescent moon and a Christian cross inside it. And most of all, it had no outside help.
We’re hard-pressed to understand this enthusiasm. The military has run Egypt for over half a century (Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak). It still does. What, after all, has changed, except there was a big, wild party telling the old guy to leave town, and a bigger, wilder one when he left? If the city folk don’t like the new guy, or the next new guy, or the one after that, what then? Saying no is trivial. In a country like Egypt, there’s no hard-won democratic tradition to say yes to, and ample reason to believe that democracy would be highly problematic, as Andrew McCarthy has discussed.
Egypt is a country where over 40% of the people are illiterate and a majority lives on less than $5 a day. It is a country where barbaric mutilations are commonplace and its greatest art has been condemned by the highest religious authorities. It is a land of crazy superstitions. It is a country where “84 percent say that apostates, or those who forsake Islam, should face the death penalty.”
The media’s coverage of Egypt reveals yet once again how little anyone should pay attention to the media’s framing of an issue like this. They project themselves into a story by interviewing people just like they once were: English-speaking, university-educated, tech-savvy secular young people, and make them the story — when in fact in a country like Egypt such people are a small minority. They write a romance of their own youth, one that has virtually nothing to do with the facts of the case.
The difference of course between the media and the people of Egypt is that when the party’s over and the romance has been written, the media get to go home and don’t have to clean up after the mess. What a nice life.