I've refrained from commenting on this issue, despite the fact that democratic transition is my bread and butter (you might not know this given all my pontificating about films and television and pop culture, but in my other life I have a Masters in Global Politics). But of course I've been following the goings on in Egypt with bated breath, shaking my fists at the jingoism of the NY Times and Wall Street Journal, reveling in the in-depth news coverage by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Aaron Bady at zunguzungu. (If you're not familiar with Zungu Zungu, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Bady holds the entire world to account using nothing but facts).
Prognosticators blindly leap to identify the 'zeitgeist' of the protests in the region; all are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole of historical precedent. Everyone's guessing at 1000 number patterns when they have only the first 5 numbers in the sequence. I don't want to be guilty of that, of empty intellectual exercises in guesswork (though apparently I'm ok with exercises in metaphor!).
I think that in good faith, this is what we in the West are qualified to comment on:
1. The human stories of the people on the ground.
2. The substantive differences in Egyptian infrastructure from other transitional states
I'd like to think that at some point I might add something substantive to the conversation. But for now, all I can do is share in the Egyptian triumph, which brought a tear to my eye because it was a triumph for populism and for democracy, and for the firm belief that if any government's endgame is nothing more than power, than it will lose the faith of its people and it will crumble.
So what happens next in Egypt? I don't know for sure. But what I do know is, we're seeing a systemic fallout. Protests have begun in Algeria and in Yemen, and governments are taking steps to prevent this sort of dethronement in Bahrain, Lebanon and Jordan.
I love that this has happened without the official assistance of the US; victory belongs to the Egyptian people, with their honest and effective exercise of democracy and peace.
What's most exciting is the ass-kicking this gives to realpolitik, aka the breakfast, lunch and dinner of United States foreign policy (with occasional tea breaks for human rights concerns. Sorry, it's America, therefore, coffee breaks). Decisions cannot be made based on choosing 'the lesser of two evils.' In all the study we make of the Middle East, never once was it suggested by anyone in the US media that democratic transition could be brought from within (nay, many prognosticators still hold that they cannot be trusted to vote for the right people!).
This despite the fact that, around the world, every democracy that has ever succeeded (and lasted) has come from revolution within (exhibit A, the United States).
I know I'm rambling incoherently, but mainly I am thinking aloud. It's a very exciting time, and nothing excites me more than peaceful overthrow of the status quo, whether its the Velvet Revolution, Gandhi, MLK, or indeed, Egypt. I am still anxious to understand exactly how this series of protests came about, and I am even more excited to see what happens next. Best of luck to all.