Friday, February 4, 2011


In Cairo, Nick Kristof meets many people determined to fight back against the government thugs sent to drive them from Tahrir Square:
At Tahrir Square’s field hospital (a mosque in normal times), 150 doctors have volunteered their services, despite the risk to themselves. Maged, a 64-year-old doctor who relies on a cane to walk, told me that he hadn’t been previously involved in the protests, but that when he heard about the government’s assault on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, something snapped.

So early Thursday morning, he prepared a will and then drove 125 miles to Tahrir Square to volunteer to treat the injured. “I don’t care if I don’t go back,” he told me. “I decided I had to be part of this.”

“If I die,” he added, “this is for my country.”

Inspired as he is by the protesters' courage, Kristof also knows the truth about non-violent revolutions:

Unfortunately, usually what determines the fate of such movements is not the courage of the democracy activists but the willingness of the government to massacre its citizens. In that case, the survivors usually retreat in sullen silence, and the movement is finished for a time.

Too true. Only governments with no legitimacy at all, or no will to fight, can be overthrown by peaceful protests. Since Mubarak has no apparent desire to leave and plenty of thugs willing to fight on his behalf, only the army can force him out. We hear rumors that the US is trying to arrange this, through our many contacts in the Egyptian army and air force -- a goodly percentage of their senior officers have been to staff college in the US -- and I hope this works. But to bring down an authoritarian government through "people power" is a trick that only works in very rare circumstances, as when the withdrawal of Soviet support pulled the scaffolding out from under Eastern Europe's communist regimes. Otherwise the realities of power are messier than that, and the bravery of protesters is of no avail against tanks and artillery.

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