The breathtaking news of Hosni Mubarak's departure spread like wildfire from the surprised and euphoric demonstrators in Tahrir Square all around the world. President Obama quickly praised both the courageous Egyptian people and the Egyptian military that "would not fire bullets at the people they were sworn to protect."
The scenes of the successful struggle in Tahrir ("Liberation") Square and the president's comments brought back memories of another "people power" demonstration in China's Tienanmen Square. For six weeks, the whole world watched -- until authorities pulled the plug on the satellite feeds -- and the tanks rolled through Beijing on June 4, 1989, crushing the hopes and aspirations of the Chinese people.
Many Chinese today still do not know what really happened in Tienanmen Square -- and I wonder how many of them know what happened on February 11, 2011 in Tahrir Square. Of course, Tienanmen was before the era of emails, Twitter and Facebook.
But even two years ago, the young people of Iran bravely marched into the streets of Tehran armed with cell phones, videocams, and Twitter -- seeking reforms from a government that represented their fears, not their hopes -- and were still smashed by the brutal forces of repression.
What changed in Egypt in 2011? And what chills does the amazing spectacle of people liberated from fear send down the backs of dictators -- in the Middle East, in the Middle Kingdom, and elsewhere?
Why didn't Mubarak's henchmen continue to block the internet and social networking sites? What role, if any, did the United States play in securing the open technological skies for the people of Egypt that it failed -- or was incapable -- to provide to such ardent peaceful demonstrators in '89 or '09? And what impact will America's low-key words and actions during these profound days have on its relations with other nations?
This is not to diminish the inspiring accomplishments of the Egyptian people, who learned lessons from the efforts of previous democracy movements. I wish them great success in sustaining the genuine efforts to reform their beloved country. But building democratic institutions will not be easy -- nor will it happen overnight. Yet the people of Egypt have shown us, as Obama put it, "the power of human dignity and... bent the arc of history toward justice once more."
In contrast, the most significant event of the week in the USA was Superbowl XLV -- a football game with all the trappings of a Roman circus -- that showcased multimillion-dollar advertisements. Americans used their cell phones, social media networks and the internet to cast their votes on the best and worst ads. I hope this is not where the democracy movement leads Egypt.