Photo via the New York Times' Lede blog
That's the headquarters of Egypt's (not remotely democratic) ruling National Democratic Party, burning.
There's still a lot of confusion about the situation. Al-Jazeera's reporting that soldiers are shaking hands with protesters and that the government apparatus has "melted away," but there's also raging fires and sporadic gun shots. It remains to be seen if this rebellion will succeed — most don't.
But remember that just a few weeks ago, Egypt was the model autocracy: modern, moderate and "stable," with the people's inconvenient grievances successfully buried. I expect to hear analyses about the inscrutable nature of the Middle Eastern people in the coming weeks.
Bullshit. There is a big difference between "stable" and "waiting to explode." Tyrannies are not only evil, but never truly stable. Supporting them leads to nothing but ill.
The long-term survival of a government is directly tied to how much deep resentment its day-to-day operation creates. This is much higher in regimes like that of Egypt's Mubarak or Tunisia's Ben Ali because there are obvious,violent systems of repression.
One of the leaked Wikileaks cables reveals that police brutality is endemic in Egypt. Because people don't feel free to express anger doesn't mean it goes away, just that they store it up for the day when they might be able to let it out. Repression is excellent at making it seem like everything is peaceful. In reality, it imposes a constant cost and ensures that when all that rage finally comes out, the populace won't be asking for their freedom nicely (why should they?).
One of the underrated reasons for industrial democracies' survival is that free speech and elections create safety valves. People are a lot less likely to engage in open rebellion, no matter how much they dislike a particular ruler, if they can grit their teeth and think "well, he'll be out of office in a few years." Being able to yell about said rulers in the meantime helps too. Whatever their problems, a measure of popular agitation is built in.
We often see governments simply as hierarchies, but this is false. Governments are human creations and humans end them. Whatever the formal organization, no matter how tyrannical, there are entire social networks that support those structures. The surest way to collapse a regime is when those networks weaken or when opposing networks successfully infect, which is far easier when most people hate a ruler's guts. All the soldiers in the world mean nothing if they're no longer willing to shoot.
Ask the Soviets
This is an old truth. It existed before Twitter, before Facebook and before mass media.
We are not on Egypt's streets. We can spread awareness, but we are not facing death. This is Egypt's revolution, not ours, and we cannot forget that.
But the American government gives the Egyptian regime $1.3 billion a year in military aid. That should end, not just for Mubarak, but for every other bastard who's sold the lie that their cruelty is the only thing keeping back chaos.
The number for the White House switchboard is 202-456-1414. Call your Congressional representatives too.
Let the tyrants buy their own truncheons. It is time to stop pretending dictatorships are anything other than a disaster waiting to happen, and a problem to defeat.