After a largely peaceful revolution that no one could have foreseen a month ago, a new Egypt is taking shape. Now it is up to the United States, other powers, the other Arab autocracies, the Egyptian army and the revolutionists themselves to adapt to what amounts to a new world.
The overthrow of the Egyptian dictator was easy to like. It was a nonviolent revolution, by protesters from all sectors, with robed lawyers and lab-coated doctors marching alongside the young Facebook users who started the uprising. It was generally bloodless. And no one tried to shoot or hang Hosni Mubarak. The closest to that was publication of his picture upside down in The New York Times. They told him to go, and he finally left.
President Barack Obama, with his own background as community organizer, grasped what was going on, if belatedly. He suffered some missteps. His personal envoy, Frank Wisner Jr., an old Middle East hand, instructed to tell President Mubarak his time was up, declared instead that Mr. Mubarak should stay. But that’s in the past, and President Obama must stand ready to help the new Egypt and accept the possible spread of revolution.
Nonviolent protests already have broken out in Yemen, Algeria, Libya and Iran, but have been harshly put down so far. More will come, since resentment and self-confidence are spreading with the help of the social networks. The Times quotes Walid Rachid, a member of the April 6 movement that helped organize the Egyptian uprising, as saying: “Tunis is the force that pushed Egypt, but what Egypt did will be the force that will push the world.”
The Egyptian army has taken prompt action to meet basic demands of the protesters. After forcing Mr. Mubarak to step down, it quickly dissolved Parliament, suspended the constitution and scheduled new elections in six months. It has not yet repealed the 30-year-old emergency law that permits arrest and unlimited detention without charge.
Building a democratic system and sharing power with the leaders of the uprising will not come easily for the army. It has a long history of backing dictatorship, and many of its officers have enriched themselves in private business related to their military service.
The revolutionists now must shift gears to help organize an effective democratic government, while staying ready to resume protest demonstrations if the army should try to reinstate Mubarak-style rule. For the future, they will do well to try to mend the ill-feeling between oppressor and oppressed, between the police and the people.
A model could be a truth and reconciliation commission such as the one fashioned in South Africa after its peaceful revolution ended nearly a half-century of apartheid. Victims of gross human rights violations told their stories, sometimes in public hearings.
The perpetrators also could testify and ask for amnesty from civil and criminal prosecution. The system, with occasional flaws, helped produce the present democratic government in South Africa.