WaPo's Jackson Diehl wrote Monday that the "best evidence" for the Mideast's political transformation "comes from the [region's] autocrats themselves." For now, argues Diehl, the significance of the call for election reform by Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is that the president has been forced to abandon the autocratic tactics he's been using for a quarter-century.
Writes Diehl, "Mubarak, under mounting pressure from the Egyptian political elite, on Saturday abandoned his plan to extend his term in office through an uncontested referendum later this year. Instead he announced that the constitution would be changed to allow for a multiple-candidate election for president. His most credible liberal challenger, Ayman Nour, remains in jail on trumped-up charges, and Mubarak's reform may prove to be little more than a ruse. But the old autocrat's attempt to crush the opposition movement Nour helped to create has clearly backfired, forcing him to improvise."
The prospect of political liberalization vindicates those Egyptian liberals who foresaw the possibility in advance of the Iraq war. In March 2003, I noted on Hit&Run that "Four Egyptian intellectuals appeared on the Arabic-language ART-TV program Against the Grain this week, and agreed that an American Mideast presence stemming from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein could represent a 'window of opportunity' for the region. According to the panelists -- three academics and a journalist from the weekly Rose Yusef -- the U.S. could become a force for democratization."
As Diehl wrote in Monday's Post, "[L]ess than two years after Saddam Hussein was deposed, the fact is that Arabs are marching for freedom and shouting slogans against tyrants in the streets of Beirut and Cairo -- and regimes that have endured for decades are visibly tottering. Those who claimed that U.S. intervention could never produce such events have reason to reconsider."