- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Good Muslims don’t imbibe champagne, of course (at least in front of one another), but now’s the time to pick up the empty bottles from a mighty elixir the thousands left in the wake of the revolution. The cheers, fireworks and dancing are over, too.

The collapse of the Mubarak regime, with its often brutal repression, marks what could be a turning point in the Middle East, and only a churl belittles the youthful hope for real change. But hopey-changey is not a reliable recipe for real results, as millions are beginning to learn to their sorrow here in America.

“Regime change” was mocked without mercy when George W. Bush advocated it for Iraq, where Saddam Hussein presided over a far more brutal dictatorship than the Mubarak version in Egypt. Now we have authentic regime change and the opportunity to see if democracy can work in the Islamic world.

Not everyone is celebrating. The Israelis, whose very existence is at stake, can’t afford even a sip of anything celebratory, fermented or not. The government in Jerusalem sent out a precautionary reminder, addressed to whoever needed it, that the Israeli army is “ready for all eventualities.” If anyone in the Islamic world is tempted to find opportunity for mischief in the “earthquake” that is rocking the Middle East, the emphatic Israeli message is “don’t you dare.”

The Israelis welcome the Egyptian army’s assurance that it intends to honor all treaties, pointedly including the 1979 treaty with the Jewish state. “An earthquake is shaking the whole Arab world and a large part of the Muslim world and we don’t yet know how these things will turn out,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a ceremony to install a new army chief. “We are ready for all eventualities because we know that the foundation of our existence, and our capacity to convince our neighbors to live in peace with us, is based on the Israeli army.” Trust, you might say, but only with verification.

This is a cautionary note that the young in Cairo should take into account, too. The Egyptian military has been the guarantor of order and stability since it assumed control in 1952, when King Farouk was sent fleeing to Rome at the end of a spectacularly profligate royal debauch. The generals suggest this time they, too, understand what unleashed the storm against Mr. Mubarak. After dissolving the parliament and suspending the constitution with promises of elections — some time, maybe in six months, but not today — the generals told the celebrating masses that the first task was to re-establish “peace and order” to “prevent chaos and disorder.” These are noble and necessary goals, but the language the generals used to express them echoed a slogan often repeated by Mr. Mubarak. The emergency law that gives the generals all the rights to suppress (and oppress) the Mubarak regime had will be suspended “at the right opportunity.” That’s the slippery promise we’ve all heard before.

The Egyptians have a long and colorful history with profligate dictators, so it’s easy to understand why the Egyptians think a government by coup is tolerable, at least for a while. King Farouk was particularly loathsome, a 300-pound gourmand described by a friend as “a stomach with a head.” He had a kinky taste for visibly pregnant female prey as well as the pleasures of the table, often sending a burly aide to fetch an unwary mother-to-be who had caught his eye. He had no sympathy for the plight of hungry subjects. “If I donate my fortune to buy food,” he once told an interviewer, “all of Egypt eats today, eats tomorrow, and the day after that they are starving again.” He fell over in exile with a heart attack, dying at 46 with his face in a plate of snails at a fashionable (and expensive) French restaurant in Rome.

The Egyptian pursuit of political freedom is not a guaranteed success, and more drama, more riots and more anger will no doubt follow. But what seems to be spreading across the Middle East from Egypt marks the best opportunity ever to shake geriatric Arabia into something good, or at least something not as bad as before. The rest of the world can take heart that the revolution is led by the young yearning for peace, freedom and free-market prosperity, and not more of a religion from the eighth century.

The explosion of youthful enthusiasm for a good life and authentic liberty against brutal regimes recalls William Faulkner’s famous Mississippi mule, “who will labor 10 years willingly and patiently for the privilege of kicking you once.” This is something for Hosni Mubarak to ponder at his leisure.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.