It is rare that I am happy to say I might have been wrong about something. After all when one spends all their time writing about politics there is a certain level of near absolute confidence in ones opinion that develops. On Monday I wrote a post asking if the Egyptian uprising was running out of steam. It seems that events have answered that in a big fat no and I couldn’t be happier.
Still revolution is a very tricky thing. Even a successful one does not necessarily mean that things will really change in the long run. Take for example the Ukrainian Orange Revolution. Back in 2004 the run off election between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych (the two Vic’s) was seen as being deeply flawed and fraudulent. It was felt that Yanukovych had stolen the election.
The uproar about this fraud led to massive street protests and general strikes, which paralyzed the nation for nearly two months. Eventually there was a new run off election and Yushchenko was declared the winner. The peaceful Orange Revolution had won.
Or so it seemed at the time. A mere six years later Viktor Yanukovych is once again the President of the Ukraine. He won in what was probably the crowning achievement of the Orange Revolution, a free and fair election where the people were allowed to choose. So far so good.
The thing is now that he is back in power President Yanukovych is taking the gains of the Orange Revolution apart. His government under the guise of rooting out corruption has been harassing opposition leaders for their official actions during the Yushchenko (it would be a lot easier to write this is they did not have such similar names!) administration.
One of their primary targets is Yulia Tymoshenko, who was the former Prime Minister and ran for the Presidents job against Mr. Yanukovych. From the New York Times article about this:
Ms. Tymoshenko has been repeatedly interrogated by prosecutors who said they were examining official corruption during her tenure as prime minister. But so far they are focusing on an accusation that has not aroused much public outrage: they say she violated the law in 2009 by shifting hundreds of millions of dollars from environmental funds to pay pensions. (She is not accused of personally stealing any of the money.)
Both the United States and Western European nations have begun to make noise about the seeming political nature of the investigations. While the Yanukovych has brought in outside investigators for the preliminary financial investigation, he has only focused on the previous administrations actions and completely ignored any potential wrong doing by administrations he was part of.
This is what can happen even in successful revolutions. They don’t always sustain themselves. Even with an organized opposition revolutions only happen when there is a problem so big the people as a whole want change. However when there are huge problems that can energize a population, they are not solved in a short period of time. This leads to that oldest of human vices, romanticizing the past.
When hope of change is realized it is a very euphoric thing, but soon comes the day when the structural problems have to be faced and often there are no quick or easy solutions. If, like the folks in the Orange revolution, the new power structure is not willing to vilify their predecessors, then it is easy for them to rehabilitate themselves and play on that feeling that things were better in the past to regain power. This is exactly what Yanukovych and his cronies did.
All of which leads us back to the Egyptian upraising. I am not one of those that fears what will happen if we let the Egyptian people choose their own government. As much as it pains me to say, I come down on the side of the Bush Freedom agenda, at least as far as letting democracy work things out as it will in any country that wants to embrace it. We did not start out with the democracy we have today and as my friend Rayne so clearly says, “Tending a democracy is the work of a lifetime, someone has to do it in every generation or it withers”.
But we in our high hopes for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak at the popular will of the people, we should not assume that this will make everything in Egypt turn to flowers and candy. There are large structural problems in their economy. They have a real problem with corruption at all levels. They will be leaving an authoritarian regime that routinely suppressed dissent and used violence to do so.
If they can bring forth a new and true democracy that does not mean that all of the powerful actors in the current administration will be gone, in fact far from it. There will times of instability as the people try to grasp what choosing their own government really means and dealing with the fact that with all the will in the world some problems take years and years to be fixed.
That will be a dangerous time for this potential new democracy. Especially if the people get a taste for demonstrations and go into the streets again to voice their displeasure at the new government. If that kind of thing goes on long enough, the bad old days of Mubarak start to look like the good old days.
It is probably too soon to be worrying about these aspects. As my maternal Grandfather used to say “We should not run out to meet Trouble, it might not be coming to our house” but at the same time we should not assume that just because a nation manages to have a revolution that it is permanent.
In end, if the people of Egypt are successful in their revolution, they will need a lot of support to get through the growing pains and not stray back to their authoritarian roots as Ukraine and Russia seem to be doing. If a people can not count on fair courts and objective rule of law, then all the revolutions in the world will not matter.
The floor is yours.