It's a jubilant day in Egypt. It's a terrifying day for potentates. Mubarak was pulled down by a peaceful public protest of the masses, a protest as significant and worthy as any in world history. What follows it is anybody's guess. But to the protesters, the single objective of a Mubarak resignation drove the movement with single-minded obsession. What follows taking down an unpopular leader must surely be better. At least it enables you to try and make things better.
No concessions were enough. No promise of reforms quieted or dissipated the crowds. Attempts to incite violence failed to disrupt the order in and determination of the assembled humanity in Tahrir Square. It's obvious that Egyptians did not trust Mubarak to deliver on promises. Nor did they trust a government handpicked to give the appearance of some elements of change. They wanted Mubarak to leave, period. At times it seemed extreme, with an obviously cowed Mubarak giving ground day by day -- it was only a matter of time until a balance of concessions would dilute the crowds. But it didn't happen. And we all waited in gathering fear that an all-out military operation to put down the revolt would ensue. Tense days.
Look at it in the abstract, though, and Mubarak's stepping down was an essential political goal. Through forcing his resignation, the people of Egypt flexed the ultimate civil political power -- to be able to topple a government by force of peaceful protest. If they hadn't accomplished that, then Mubarak and his successors and other regional authoritarian regimes would have nothing to fear as a consequence of their various misdeeds in the future. The formulas of the past would have continued to work for them, delay, dissuade, detain and torture, grind down the troublemakers and reestablish the dominion of fear. Instead, it's clear that the people can bring down a tyrant in Egypt. So tyrants everywhere are experiencing job insecurity for the first time in decades.
Mubarak had to go to show anyone who might replace him that he can be brought down, too. With that very clear and unmistakable message, the transition of power is much more likely to produce a successor for whom the will and well-being of the people is foremost. It's profound political thinking and the drama of it playing out will not soon be forgotten.
Congratulations Egypt, from an American admirer.