As I watched Hosni Mubarak address the Egyptian people last week, I thought to myself, “It didn’t have to be this way.”
In June 2005, as secretary of state, I arrived at the American University in Cairo to deliver a speech at a time of growing momentum for democratic change in the region. Following in the vein of President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, I said that the United States would stand with people who seek freedom. This was an admission that the United States had, in the Middle East more than any other region, sought stability at the expense of democracy, and had achieved neither. It was an affirmation of our belief that the desire for liberty is universal – not Western, but human – and that only fulfillment of that desire leads to true stability.
For a time it seemed that Egypt’s leadership was responding – not so much to us but to their own people, who clamored for change. Egyptians had just witnessed the retreat of Syrian troops in Lebanon and the election of a new government; the purple-fingered free elections in Iraq; and the emergence of new leadership in Palestine. A few months later, freer if not fully free presidential elections followed raucous civic debate in Egypt’s cafes and online. Though Mubarak’s party won overwhelmingly, it seemed a kind of Rubicon had been crossed.
(photo credit: Maggie Osama)