The craziest part of the uprising in Egypt is how it caught us all by surprise. After all, it was predicted — three years ago. Unfortunately, nobody was paying attention. It sounded too weird. The warnings weren’t coming from political analysts, but from climate and crop experts. Which means — what? Climate topples dictator? No way, right?
It is somewhat ironic that Tunisia would be the catalyst for revolutionary upheaval in Egypt and, quite possibly, for future uprisings in the Arab world. Tunisia’s founding father, Habib Bourguiba, turned his nose up at Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arabism, emphasizing instead his own country’s uniqueness and forging close ties with the West. And, as I have repeatedly found over the years by way of their lukewarm response to my distinctive Egyptian dialect, ordinary Tunisians don’t have much love for Egyptians, who are seen as hypocrites for their pervasive, but often superficial, displays of piety.
With Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic, pro-Western regime under threat from the angry Egyptian masses, it appears we are witnessing a new dawn for the power of the “Arab street” in Egypt, Tunisia and potentially elsewhere. This is going to be a profound challenge for Israel, whose only diplomatic or even clandestine relationships with Arab states have been with undemocratic autocrats (there is no alternative type of regime in the Arab world, outside of perhaps Lebanon). When it comes to Egypt in particular, Israel — which in recent years has developed a high degree of strategic cooperation with Cairo in dealing with shared Islamist enemies — has a lot to lose as a consequence of almost any change.
Over the years, American officials have with modest frequency lectured other countries about their denial of basic civil liberties to their citizens.