Monday, February 28, 2011

Around London's West End Theatre District, Part Deux

One of the things I love about London is the fantastic line-up of theatrical shows at London's West End. At any given night, there are at least thirty-something shows playing in and around London's West End ranging from dramas to comedies, many which feature big name celebrities such as Keira Knightley, Judd Law, Matthew Fox, Kevin Spacey, and Elisabeth Moss to name a few.

Last Tuesday afternoon, I got a last-minute email from my friend inviting me to go theatre as she had a pair of free tickets from her boyfriend's mother to see End of the Rainbow. I happily said yes since I have not been to the theatre since Halloween weekend, plus I was eager to catch up with my friend who recently returned from a four month stint in China. I knew nothing about the play other than it was based on the life of Judy Garland's last few months before her tragic death in 1969. Of course, I only know of Judy Garland as the then 17 year old who played Dorothy Gales in the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, but nothing else about her professional career or personal life until this play. Garland had a long and productive Hollywood career, but her personal life was ruined by drugs, alcohol, personal debt, and one very tense relationship with her controlling mother.

The play took place in a London hotel which also doubled as the main stage of the Talk of the Town where Judy was on a five-week tour to once again resuscitate her crumbling career. Four failed marriages and three suicide attempts behind her, Judy arrives to London clean and sober with her new young fiance and manager, Mickey Deans. However, the physical and emotional exhaustion from the intense schedule of back-to-back shows and PR events left her reaching for prescription pills and alcohol to deal with the pressure of her once glorious Hollywood career. Three months into her marriage with Mickey Deans in 1969, Garland died of an accidental drug overdose, leaving behind three children- Liza Minnelli from her second marriage, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft from her third marriage.

Overall, the acting was superb --- brilliant, in fact, as the acting was combined with singing of Judy's well known tunes, supported by a six-piece ensemble band, making this more of a musical theatrical performance, which I didn't expect. The lead actress (Tracie Bennett) who played Judy Garland was phenomenal; she did an amazing job depicting Garland's emotional instability, plus Bennett had an uncanny resemblence to the older Judy Garland. We saw a few of her "live shows" at Talk of the Town, which featured Garland's memorable hits, including The Man That Got Away, Come Rain Or Come Shine, The Trolley Song, and of course, Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Brilliant!

The good thing is we didn't leave Trafalgar Studio feeling depressed, rather we saw this play as a tribute to the life and work of Judy Garland. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed Tracie Bennett's performance; she is incredibly talented and the singing was amazing, however, the other actors on stage, Anthony, her gay pianist and Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be husband, was far from memorable, but perhaps this was by design, instead focusing on the rise and fall of one of Hollywood's legendary stars.

In the play, Judy Garland also makes reference to the other major show in town, The Mousetrap, based on Agatha Christie's murder mystery play. It is the longest running show in the world now in its 59th year. We went to see the play with Keenan's Dad back in October at The St. Martin's Theatre. Normally I would refrain from booking seats at the very first row, but it was the only tickets available for Friday evening. It is very different sitting at the front -- I personally think you have a better appreciation of the acting, subtle movements, and the detailed placement of the the props.

The play was fun and entertaining with a twisted ending. Mr. and Mrs. Ralston, proprietors of the Monkswell Manor, hosted the most obnoxious and not to mention eccentric group of people during a massive snow strom. Mrs. Boyles is an extremely critical elder lady who is a writer; Christopher Wren (claims to related to architect Wren) is weirdo young lad who could use a dose of Ritalin; Major Metcalf, a retired army officer; Miss Casewell, a strange lady with a troubled childhood; Mr. Paravicini, a peculiar older gentlemen with a strong foreign accent; and Detective Sergeant Trotter who arrives on skis to investigate the murder of a woman in London.

Detective Sergeant Trotter has early intelligence that he believes that murderer is at large and on his way to Monkswell Manor after fleeing the scene from London Paddington, that is, if he hasn't already checked in. Alarmed and uneasied, each guest raised their eyebrows at each other with suscipion and then Mrs. Boyle is suddenly killed... Who is the murderer? You'll just have to see the play yourself... 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Europe’s Diplomatic Hour: Acting on Libya

With all of the recent focus on the revolutionary movements that continue to swell across North Africa and the Middle East, our attention on this blog has been specific and targeted on these developments throughout most of the month.  Because these major events happened to coincide with our return to London from the region, it seemed relevant and timely to discuss the issues at length given our recent perspectives.  Between my last two posts on the events as they unfolded (“Voices of Democracy” and “The Wind of Change”), a lot of other things have been going on in London, including Lily’s continued development work in Moldova and a mostly uneventful business trip of mine to Brussels.  In the process of writing, however, we failed to mention anything about these experiences, and I have had a difficult time trying to link a commentary that would be of any interest given all of the change currently occurring in the world.  However, as the aggressive massacres on peaceful civilian demonstrations intensify in Libya and the world again reacts with hesitation and in disarray towards a diplomatically awkward crisis, I have decided to bring the topic back to Europe’s doorstep and in particular, Brussels, the seat of the European Union.  
As the protests and downfall of Mubarak in Egypt highlighted the diplomatic dilemma caused by decades of political, financial, and military support by the United States for that regime, the chaos and unrest in Libya poses a similar challenge to Europe as the United Kingdom and Italy in particular have led the enthusiastic restoration of formal commercial and diplomatic relations in recent years.  Considered a pariah state and in relative isolation for decades, Libya under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi gradually re-emerged in 2003 and 2004 with a renewed legitimacy of an almost historically revisionist nature, reaching its zenith with the release of the convicted Lockerbie Pan Am bomber, Abdelbaset el-Megrahi on “compassionate” grounds.  Although an independent judicial ruling by a Scottish court, his release coincided with a statement by a BP spokesperson that “a delay may have had negative consequences on UK commercial interests”.  Since then the number of contracts between United Kingdom and Libyan gas and energy companies has increased steadily.  The warmth in the last couple of years between Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who is incidentally battling his own embarrassing personal and legal problems at the moment, hit its high point in 2008 with an historic cooperation agreement in which Italy agreed to pay Libya $5 billion in reparations for its past colonial occupation in exchange for Libya’s assistance in curbing illegal immigration and investing in Italian business by providing development and infrastructure contracts to Italian firms.  Business between Europe and Libya is booming and extends beyond European Union members with infrastructure pipeline and gas contracts spanning from Serbia to Russia.  Even President Bush in 2008 officially reset the relationship and stated that Libya would be an important partner in the “War on Terror”.  The economic interests in Libya run deep, particularly in Europe, and it seems the companion troubles of oil and terror have once again cemented their legacy and have legitimized much of what has been built between Libya and the West.         
Less than a couple of years ago I wrote about the focus in Europe on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty (“The Treaty of Lisbon:  Why It’s Important”) and its groundbreaking proposals to create a uniform and ideologically aligned approach to European foreign policy.  At that time and as stated in their official exposure drafts, a primary goal of ratification was to “secure Europe as a place of rights, values, freedom and solidarity, and to present Europe as a global actor on the world stage”.  The debates in Brussels at the time were between notions of national sovereignty and fears of a centralized political body usurping rights to self-determination.  A comprehensive framework was proposed in the form of a permanent executive branch of the European Union and the creation of a Secretary of State, now embodied by Hermann Van Rompuy as the “President of the European Council” and Catharine Ashton as the “High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy” respectively.  In hindsight, although I supported the treaty, I do not think it is a harsh criticism to assert that ratification and the creation of these new bodies and positions has achieved absolutely nothing.  Europhiles in Brussels still clamor against claims that the European Union is a politically sterile institution and Euroskeptics are keen to point out that yet another European Union effort at further political integration has gone stale.        
While in Brussels a couple of weeks ago for work, sitting over a strong glass of Westmalle and watching the Al Jazeera coverage of protests occurring in Egypt and Yemen, I wondered what the significance of a “unified Europe” for the world would be besides just an economic union.  I wondered whether Europe, a continent that for centuries was defined by imperialism, war, revolution and its own authoritarian history, now having overcome these challenges, would ever transition beyond an economic marriage of convenience and truly represent something more than its current model.  As I have mentioned before, the United States continues to constitute its soft and hard power abroad and the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) show signs of building theirs to a formidable competitive strength.  As Europe faces challenges to its union posed by the financial crisis and the economic troubles within the Eurozone, I wondered whether its institutions and framework could be reinvigorated and redefine relevance as a global political actor in a constantly changing twenty-first century.  Despite now having the required institutions in place since ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, Europe still speaks on foreign policy as 27 separate member states. Much of the time this will be necessary to maintain the diverse national interests of each state, but there will be momentous challenges in which their collective stakes run deep and where they should use the institutions at their disposal to coordinate effective and leading foreign policy initiatives. 
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has proven to be a different kind of leader from Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, acting unpredictably and impulsively over the last decade and constantly re-inventing himself in the most perplexing, and sometimes disturbing ways.  During the current turmoil he is demonstrating to the global community that he is not only unapologetically brutal and unashamedly violent, but also probably exceedingly mentally unstable.  In spite of the shared interest in curbing illegal immigration from North Africa and the numerous oil contracts between the member states of Europe and Libya it is dangerous for any nation, yet alone a regional union of democracies, to conduct business with a leader who exhibits a deranged demeanor of defiance and hubristic open disregard for internationally accepted norms of human rights. 
Aside from being philosophically and morally at odds with the principles and values of the European Union, Libya is an unreliable and erratic “partner” by which no serious long-term or pragmatic strategic interest can be fulfilled, including the number of commercial interests at stake.  As the days go on and the bloodshed becomes worse it is becoming increasingly clear that a Libya under Gaddafi cannot carry on with business as usual if and when his bloody purge subsides.  In retrospect, the opportunistic and eager acceptance by Europe of Gaddafi’s “openness” phase in the early 2000s was probably premature at best and entirely inappropriate and economically destabilizing at worst; already we are seeing the impact on the price of crude oil.  Since Europe is the most prominent source of foreign direct investment in the country how Brussels approaches the chaos in Libya in the coming days, weeks, and months can define the future of Europe just as much as the future of the greater Middle East.
Up to this point there has not been an international diplomatic dilemma to test the resilience and fundamental strength of the new European foreign policy apparatus on the scale of the Libya uprising and its subsequent suppression.  Speaking decisively and authoritatively as a singular voice on this crucial issue and spearheading any United Nations Security Council resolutions alongside the United States, including placing pressure on questionable members of the “permanent five” such as China and Russia, Europe must set a precedent for how it operates as a diplomatic player with more combined influence than its individual member states are capable.  They must act collectively as a union of nations and economies to enforce the declaration of a no fly zone over Libya and immediate economic sanctions as a most basic response to a regime that has established to the world that its leadership is impulsively defiant and its system increasingly unsustainable.      
While criticism is already flying regarding President Barack Obama’s lack of a clear and firm response to the violence in Libya, the truth is that the United States does not have the same leverage on Libya as Europe.  A policy response must come through the United Nations, directed by the European Union and its member states and backed by the United States. Some European leaders have been more outspoken against the atrocities than others and British Prime Minister David Cameron among them.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel is already proposing disbanding trade agreements and imposing sanctions immediately.  But unfortunately separate statements of “regret”, “concern”, “sympathy”, and “condemnation” by European leaders will achieve nothing for either human rights nor the economic projects and contracts that their countries are tied to.  The fact will always remain that Europe has material interests in Libya, but what they must decide now is whether Gaddafi is the man they want to conduct business with.  The impact of how Europe decides to act, or not act, in the next days will last for decades, regardless of what happens to Libya’s political situation internally.  The European Union has the opportunity to take a lead role in dealing with a crisis unfolding across their waters in which numerous European interests are at stake.  Although the outcome is unknown and impossible to predict, their efforts will at least result in a Europe that is long overdue at proving its political clout in the world.  Otherwise, the ambitious aspirations embodied within the Lisbon Treaty and the relatively new framework they created may simply collapse under the weight of irrelevance alongside the geriatric dictatorships of the Middle East.  The geopolitical ball is very much in the court of Europe with this one and it is their turn to play it in the United Nations.

For more of this type of commentary and for current issues relating to many of the places we have traveled, please read more at Travel is Subversive: Culture, History, and Politics from Abroad.  You can find us at:  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Day Out in Cambridge

Last weekend Keenan and I, along with a friend, took a day trip to explore Cambridge. I hate to admit after living in the U.K. for over two years now, none of us including my ex-New Yorker friend, have visited the famous college town located just 50 miles outside of London. Sad, but true. Even with 25+ out-of-town visitors, we never managed to take our friends and family to visit Cambridge, or Oxford for that matter.  

Since I've been traveling back and forth between London and Chisinau for work over the past few weeks, I treated myself to the architectural gems of Cambridge to rectify the uninspiring bleak Soviet architecture in Chisinau. The offers group fares to/from Cambridge for under a tenner, but the catch is you have to travel on the slow train (1hr 12 mins) from Liverpool Street Station, whereas the direct non-stop train (45 minutes) departs from Kings Cross.

We arrived to Cambridge around noon hungry and ready for lunch. We headed straight to Market Square to check out the bustling Saturday Farmer's Market which sold everything from fish, meats, vegetables and fruits. We grabbed some fresh orange juice and Pinklady apples to start the day, then went to a little tea shop called Auntie's for an artery-clogging full English "brekkie" (aka breakfast) and a large pot of Earl Grey. Tummies happy, it was time for serious business: touring Cambridge's famous colleges.

Rivalry between England’s two oldest and most prestigious universities, “Oxbridge,” dates back some 800 years ago when an association of scholars left Oxford after a dispute with the townsmen to form Cambridge University. Like Oxford, Cambridge is a collegiate university comprising of 31 independent colleges including Kings College, Queens College, and Trinity College. Whilst much bigger in size than its rival, Cambridge still retains its  scholarly atmosphere and the town is filled with cute coffeeshops, ubitiquous bookstores, narrow pedestrian pathways, and tons of bikes lining the streets of Cambridge. 

Our first stop along the King's Parade was King's College. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, King's College is the most architecturally stunning building in Cambridge in my opinion, particularly the College Chapel, a brilliant example of late Gothic architecture. We meandered through the Great Courtyard of King's College to "The Backs" to watch people go "punting" (pole-boating) along the River Cam whilst braving the winter chill. We came back later in the evening to enjoy a free concert by the internationally famous King's College Choir. If you have time, I highly recommend it!

Next: Trinity College. The largest of Cambridge's colleges founded by Henry VII in 1546, Trinity College's notable alumni includes Jawaharlal Nehru, Issac Newton, and Francis Bacon, and has produced over 30 Nobel Laureates. It is also home of the Wren Library designed by Christopher Wren, the 17th century architect who also designed St. Paul Cathedral in London.

Then: St. John's College. Entering through the magnificent Great Gate of St. John's College (£3 admission) takes you to the First Court built just south of the old hospital. The pathway takes you to the College Chapel designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, taking its inspiration from Sainte Chapelle in Paris through the Chapel Courtyard to the Second Court and Third Court to the River Cam where you can get a glimpse of the Bridge of Sighs, a smaller replica of the famous bridge in Venice.

Our last stop was Queens' College, located on the bottom of the King's Parade, which was unfortunately closed by the time we arrived at 4:00 PM. Hours vary seasonally so be sure to check before you visit. Oh well -- there is always next time, and yes, there will be a next time! We went to see the famous landmark of Queens College -  the Mathematical Bridge - straddling the narrow River Cam. I'm not sure why  this wooden bridge is famous; it was uninspiring at best and reminded me of the wood bridge we had to build using toothpicks in 7th grade science class. The popular fable was that Sir Issac Newton designed the bridge without the use of nuts and bolts.

With some time to kill before the King's College Choir started, we stopped at The Anchor, a nearby pub along the River Cam, for a pint and pear cider. Afterward, the three of us went to dinner at Jamie Oliver's Italian, which was a great way to end our wonderful little day trip to the famous college town of Cambridge. Until we meet again...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Wind of Change: Egypt Decides

The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.
-- British Prime Minister Harrold Macmillan on Decolonization, 3 February 1960, Cape Town, South Africa

As I watched the events unfold over the last few weeks, I wondered whether the demonstrations in Cairo would go the way of Berlin or Beijing.  I wondered whether the equally desperate and emotional cries for liberty of ordinary Egyptians, echoing their German and Chinese counterparts from 1989, would end in the revolutionary change that swept through Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Berlin Wall or whether they would be crushed and silenced, forced into a stalemate similar to that which resulted in China after the brutal Tiananmen Square Massacre.  Although it is still very early, one thing is certain; what occurred in Egypt was a revolution that will change things in that country forever, not just another suppressed demonstration in a country where the rule of law and individual liberty cease to exist unquestioned.  A couple of weeks ago when I wrote about "A Third Way," the outcome of these events was still very unclear.  Now that we know we have witnessed history, the question that remains is what kind of history will be made.

Mubarak’s Missed Opportunity
In the past there have been leaders of authoritarian regimes who were able to direct a progressive course for history, spearheading radical reforms in the systems in which they were an integral part. Both Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and FW de Klerk in South Africa helped to successfully disintegrate from within the systems of communism and apartheid respectively that had strangled the freedoms of  their people for so long and, in the process, gained international admiration, each eventually winning Nobel Peace Prizes for their revolutionary reforms.  Due to signals of internal collapse within the Soviet economy and external pressure and economic sanctions against apartheid in South Africa, each realized that the days were numbered for the systems of government they had been appointed to lead.  In light of what they knew would eventually come to an end, and probably under their watch, they made the decision to work along with the transition rather than against it, and were therefore acknowledged as reformers and peacemakers in history.       

Over the last few weeks, watching his begrudging, defiant, and patronizing speeches, I have questioned whether Mubarak had a similar opportunity, himself perhaps realizing that the end of his despotic regime was inevitable in light of the momentous outcry against him.  The awkward truth is that Mubarak never faced the same economically debilitating pressures as the Soviet Union or apartheid and his hubris was always sustained by the unrelenting financial and political support provided by the United States in their interest at maintaining stability in the “region”.  In light of this, and with hindsight, it becomes clearer how he was able to remain so confidently stubborn and unapologetic all the way to the very end despite all the indicators that the support structures of his regime were collapsing around him from the mounting pressure of public and global repudiation.  Instead of pursuing a strategy of damage control and public image revisionism the legacy of his demise will reflect what he always was; an agent of an old world order, a strategic puppet, and a disgraced tyrant.  Now that he has fled to his seaside retreat in Sharm-el-Sheik and the fate of his own history has been determined, the efforts of the Egyptian people and outside observers should go towards understanding what the legacy of the Revolution of 2011 will be. 

The Military and the Muslim Brotherhood
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces, led by Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman (“Tantawi”), is now the caretaker government and is meant to fulfill the mandate of the Egyptian people.  The Supreme Council will act as a ruling body alongside the Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest judiciary body in Egypt, over the next several months during the transition period to draft a new constitution and hold free and fair elections.  Of Nubian origin, Tantawi is a minority from the southern region of Egypt which borders Sudan and has a long history of military service in the country including the Sinai War of 1956, the Six Day War of 1967, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  He also served in the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1990 and 1991 and has held various diplomatic and security posts since.  There are many indications that if Mubarak had been killed in the assassination attempt of June 1995 Tantawi would have succeeded him as president of Egypt, so he is certainly not a new player on the scene.  

As of today the military has so far dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, and promised to hold control for six months or until an election is called.  What remains to be seen is why they have yet to or whether they will repeal the thirty year old state of emergency, one of the key demands of the protesters from the very beginning.  This may not necessarily signal a sinister intent, but the situation needs to be closely watched and followed-up on by the people of Egypt as any excuse for a delay or postponement of the drafting of a new constitution or elections can be justified through this existing state of emergency law.  History has shown that militaries often have a difficult time giving up power once they obtain it; Myanmar as a worst case example of what could go wrong.
The Egyptian Parliament was filled with Mubarak supporters, so its dissolution means a weeding out of old guard MPs whose allegiance lay with the Mubarak regime.  The fact that the constitution has been suspended means that a committee can be legally established to draft a new one, that any political party can participate in elections and that they can be held earlier than September.

In any case, there is reason to remain cautiously optimistic about the current military administration.  They played an important role and should be given credit for remaining neutral and keeping peace during the 18 days of protests, putting the security of the citizens first.  They have already made a couple of bold reforms to lay the foundation for a smooth transition, but the Egyptian people must keep their resolve and hold any government to account which does not meet their ultimate demands for full democracy. 

While the risks associated with a “temporary” administration and transition by the military are more obvious, it is impossible to know the true motivations of the Muslim Brotherhood in all of this.  So far and still they remain conspicuously quiet, but to assume that their ultimate objective is to replicate the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran is presumptuous.  Furthermore, three days after Mubarak’s resignation, they have already allowed too much time to lapse between the transitions of power to make an opportunistic strike.    

Direct comparisons fall short when we try to find an Egyptian equivalent to the cult of personality exhibited in Ayatollah Khomeini who, throughout his exile and with his supporters and offshoot groups in Iran, was vocal and active from the very beginning stages of the revolt.  Although initially working alongside other anti-Shah demonstrators including Marxists, liberals, and pro-democracy intellectuals, the Ayatollah’s presence and involvement was always more prominent than that of the closest Egyptian equivalent in the Muslim Brotherhood.  It may be that knowing the history of how Iran turned out, the Muslim Brotherhood sought to avoid any such link that could jeopardize the legitimacy of the movement and therefore purposely maintained a low profile until Mubarak stepped down.

However, it would be naive to assume that any player’s intentions are noble and selfless and that the Muslim Brotherhood has no self-interest in seeking influence within the framework of a new Egypt.  In all likelihood I see the Muslim Brotherhood aspiring to the same level as that of Hezbollah in Lebanon, but I do not see them achieving this.  First of all the two countries are drastically different so the Muslim Brotherhood’s level of penetration would likely not run as deep as Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Egypt, the largest country in the Arab world dwarfs tiny Lebanon in sheer population, geographic size, and diversity of groups and interests.  Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood lacks the magnitude of state sponsored support that Hezbollah enjoys from influential countries such as Iran.  Their ability to take administrative control of certain regions within Egypt or to infiltrate the government and economy on the scale and efficiency of that seen by Hezbollah in Lebanon is therefore much more unlikely to occur.  Instead, they will more likely maintain their role as the most influential Islamist voice in any political process and perhaps gain a decent level of representation within a new legislative body, either directly or through splinter sub-groups.

The ones to watch closely are therefore those who currently maintain and yield power in the country as they are the ones who will be required to give it up and transition Egypt to a functioning democracy.  While the intentions and actions of other groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, must be scrutinized, all eyes must now remain on the military to ensure that they make the correct moves over the coming months. 

What Now?
When Mubarak finally stepped down after 18 days of an almost Pharaohnic-like arrogant resolve, the rest of the world watched and reacted from two main camps; with awe and inspiration at the resilience of the people or with hesitation and skepticism about what would happen next. 

Both are natural emotional responses to this monumental change and are required in order to balance pragmatism with idealism in reconciling the forthcoming reconstruction phases in Egypt.  Revolution, although a last resort in the pursuit of justice, can be an uncomfortable phenomenon because it shakes and dismantles the foundations on which the known and familiar rest, opening up the possibility for a number of failures or miscalculations where the process towards democratization could be derailed. 

The facts of this revolution might provide some indicators of how it could turn out.  The 18 days of demonstrations were peaceful and non-violent with the exception of the protesters who were murdered by “stability supporters”, the common street thugs hired by the Mubarak regime to spread terror against the movement.  The revolution included members of all social classes, students, business people, the elderly, the youth, merchants, farmers, clergy, Google executives, minorities, Christians, and Muslims, all united in the same cause.  The messages were secular, demanding fundamental human rights and the guarantee of individual liberty.  When the calls for prayer came Christians created human shields around their Muslim counterparts to protect them against harm from Mubarak’s police.  Muslims did the same when Christians held memorial Mass for those who died during the government’s crackdown.  In the absence of support from Mubarak’s police, communities created and organized self-governed security forces in neighborhoods throughout Egypt to keep the peace and ensure the safety of citizens and private property.   Aside from the legitimate concerns that arise from any revolution, the unity and pacifism demonstrated by the Egyptian people during these weeks of civil disobedience should serve as a positive indicator of how things might turn out.            

The Fragile Road Ahead
The questions that remain are numerous and varied and the discomfort with the uncertainty that they raise is natural.  But fear and hesitation of the unknown should not lead to the fatalistic conclusion that the only possible outcomes of revolution in the Middle East are either a secular dictatorship or an Islamist theocracy.  As I stated in my last post, "A Third Way," the world must sever itself from the preconceived and lazy notion that democracy is only fit for certain nations or traditions of people.  It is intellectual and moral cowardice, if not outright bigotry, to believe that a particular people are not capable of self-government and civic participation, especially if they have fought and died for it in the face of the most extreme adversity.  Such a mindset would have allowed fascism to flourish and brutalize the world unopposed, would have continued to deny African-Americans the most basic of human dignities, and would have deprived millions in the Indian subcontinent representation in their own lands.  The road to democracy is long and arduous, but to presume its ultimate failure because of paranoia and ignorance is what gives power and legitimacy to the iron fists of tyranny. 

As the Egyptian people begin their great experiment with democracy the lessons of political history may act as a guide, but at last they will determine their own destiny.  The history of the world is full of examples of how this could go wrong, but it is also full of examples how they can get it right.  Ultimately, the direction it takes is up to those who fought for this from the very first days of protest.  As people go back to work, return to normalcy, and resume their daily routines, the biggest mistake they could make now would be to lose the momentum that they built over the last few weeks, becoming complacent and assuming that a government, any government, would meet their needs unquestioned.  The Egyptians will get their first lesson in democracy very soon; that it takes perseverance, continued engagement, and an inherent distrust in authority to get things done.  Based on the 18 days of revolt, it looks like they have the resilience and determination that it takes to make it work.  Finally after thirty years, instead of Mubarak, it is now the people of Egypt who will be held to account for writing their history.  If they succeed then the wind of change may once again blow across the world, rejuvenating in some of us the lost belief that the will of the people can dictate the course of history.