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Egypt : he’s gone!

February 12, 2011

The fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989 had a similar feel. It was people power pure and simple. The crowd, goaded beyond endurance by the man’s tedious Leninist rhetoric and unintimidated by the Securitate, starting calling “Dictator” and surged toward the central committee building. The royal couple of Roumanian Marxism-Leninism fled from the balcony and then to the border but were captured and dealt summary justice – that is, before a firing squad – after a mock two hour trial.

The strutting Shah of Iran, overthrown in 1979, became a haunted itinerant only four years after hosting a gaudy celebration in Persepolis to celebrate 2500 years since the Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great. His own Pahlavi dynasty was make-believe, his father having been a mere army sergeant. His exile was a Womens’ Weekly tour, from Egypt to Mexico and back to Egypt, before he died in 1980.

In the Soviet Union in March 1952 the only celebrants of Stalin’s overdue death were in the Gulag. The starved, frozen inmates knew who had blighted their lives and allowed themselves a cheer or two. Other dictators have died, their illusions intact, Franco for example. Others have fallen after battlefield defeat like the two Napoleons, the Greek colonels or, thanks to Thatcher, the Argentinian generals.

Suicide is a way out. Hitler, Goebells and Himmler contemplated pictures of Mussolini’s dangling corpse and chose the more dignified alternative, a neat SS-manufactured cyanide capsule or bullet from a Mauser pistol. Actually Hitler had long been focused on suicide, as part of his larger love of death itself. Malcolm Muggeridge speculated it would have been better to have the former Nazi leadership holed up in a boarding house where they could have bored one another and their visitors with stories of their triumphs past, old blowhards kept in a kind of house arrest for public edification.

“Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.”

Celebrate the moment. The dictator is gone.

  1. Carolyn permalink
    February 12, 2011 9:17 am

    It’s wonderful to see the people rise up and exert their will.

    And now that social media sites make communication so quick and so easy, I hope we will see more oppressed peoples assert themselves. There always has been strength in numbers but galvanising the populace into action has been an impossible challenge under a dictatorial regime.

    Let’s hope that’s about to change.

  2. Watson permalink
    February 12, 2011 4:56 pm

    Yes, I celebrate his passing – and cross my fingers for the future. But sadly, I have to admit that I was never particularly aware of the plight of the Egyptian people prior to the present crisis. I accept that it may be my fault, but I do pay some attention to the media, and I can’t say I’ve seen much commentary there before.

    Intriguingly, your list does not include Saddam Hussein, surely as despotic a tyrant as any mentioned here, but nudged from power by the intervention of an external party, namely the US, bent on ‘promoting democratic regime change’ in the Middle East – or so they claimed at the time, after the first justification for the invasion – WMD – became, using Nixon’s term ‘inoperative’. It seems there are better ways and better candidates for democratic revolution than oil rich Iraq.

    The traditional role of the US in propping up dictators like Mubarak, and the Saudis stands in embarrassing contrast to Obama’s cheering from the sidelines at the demise of the same leader he greeted warmly only a year or so ago.

  3. Peter Pando permalink
    February 12, 2011 5:16 pm

    Only a few posts ago you were celebrating a different nation and its regime which is equally oppressive to its people as the one that was (is it too early to say ‘was’) in Egypt, and maybe even worse. You have to stand for something – and hopefully it will be deeper than the appearance of democratic practice and economic success.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      February 12, 2011 9:20 pm

      On the contrary, given the horrors on display around the world I think governments that give their people rising living standards and live by democratic rules are pretty welcome. No regime in the entire Arab world has delivered on these scores and precious few in
      Africa, for example.

      • Peter Pando permalink
        February 12, 2011 9:49 pm

        What is your opinion about regimes that give their people rising living standards while, and sometimes by, oppressing foreigners and faiths domestically and seeking to shackle foreigners and their democracies abroad, whilst practising a ‘shallow’, limited democracy themselves to dilute crticism in the West?

  4. John permalink
    February 13, 2011 8:19 pm

    Aren’t we forgetting the elephant in the room? How many Arab dictatorships would fall in a week if not for the arms and dollars they receive from the US and Europe? I wonder Bob, if fate had determined a life for you in Canberra as Foreign Affairs minister, would you have done anything to alter Australia’s compliant stance in this regard?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      February 14, 2011 7:24 am

      Here we go again. Everything that’s wrong with the Arab world ( no rights for women, low economic growth apart from the gulf, dictatorship, little intellectual life measured by publishing or independent media ) is all due to the evil old USA. Actually US policy on the Middle East has been a record of failure since World War 11 but it is time to acknowledge the failure of pan-Arab nationalism. Answer this : why can’t Arab countries with their oil achieve the economic take-off of India and China, South Korea or Singapore, even Indonesia ? I am interested.

      • Peter Pando permalink
        February 14, 2011 11:15 am

        Dear Bob,

        You reject anti-US ‘running dog’ conspiracy theorists, and seem to thereby deny the concerns that Arabs have about the survival of their Islamic culture in the face of European and US power. Why would any real believer in the Koran want to emulate the economic success of the ‘Judeo-Christian’ US at the peril of their faith and their souls? If another country offered Arab nations cultural protection in the face of these rampant power blocs, why wouldn’t they take it? Talking about intentions masks the reality that in industrialised economic competition a massive, newly-rich, mobile, hungry population creates an over- not under-dog. If your soul felt threatened, wouldn’t you choose to side with the future over the crumbling past?

        Alternatively for the Arabs, perhaps there are greener pastures elsewhere, and selling oil is a way of buying into them without having to waste time building a dusty nation.


  5. February 14, 2011 10:33 am

    I am interested too. With their rich resource why do the Arab nations choose not to function independently from the U.S. Do you have an answer Bob?
    Congratulations to the people of Egypt on removing their shackles by overthrowing the oppressor.Has a biblical ring to it , doesn’t it!

  6. John permalink
    February 14, 2011 11:16 am

    The answer is, because they are largely led by kleptomaniac kings. Think of how the world has changed in the last 30 years, and how Saudi has changed. In almost every respect, the country is exactly as it was. Bob – you’re missing the point entirely.

    Yes of course the Gulf and much of the Levant is mediaevally backward. That’s not in dispute. We BOTH want civil liberty and education and freedom for women in the Arab world. The primary obstacle: Arab governments, almost all of which are US clients.

    The best way to advance the Arab world is democracy. Has the US been good, or bad for democracy in the Middle East since WWII?

    Asking that question (and articulating the answer) is not America bashing, is it?

    And pan-Arabism has been dead for more than 30 years (see Maley’s excellent article in today’s Oz.)

  7. lindsay allen permalink
    February 19, 2011 6:38 pm

    The Obama Administration must be upset with this outbreak of democratic ideals in Egypt. They must be hoping or maneuvering that the military will appoint a strong man as the new President. The Obama Administration would want this contagion to be halted. I think it is a delicate time in Egypt.
    It must be very tempting for the supreme council, seduced by power, to hold on for as long as they can. The Obama Administration would want certainty and predictability and stability. The old certainties have been swept away. I am hoping for the best.

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