Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/1/2011 (2248 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As the effects of Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution spread, it is beginning to look as if what started in Tunis may end with a revolution that will sweep the Arab world, much as events in Poland were the herald of a new era in Eastern Europe. It is too soon to do more than hope for such an eventuality -- Arab leaders have proven themselves adept at subverting the popular will in the past -- but for the first time since Britain and France betrayed the Arabs' dreams at the end of the First World War, there is now an actual opportunity for democracy.
That opportunity, however, may be the thing of a moment and that moment is tense, particularly in Egypt, the largest and most populous nation in the Arab world and the one where the fever for democracy that first seized Tunisia seems to have taken its strongest hold.
There have been many remarkable developments across North Africa and the Middle East since Tunisians forced their longtime dictator, former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, into exile. In Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Egypt young men have set themselves on fire in emulation of the Tunisian "martyr" whose death sparked the Jasmine Revolution.
From Morocco to Yemen, authoritarian governments are hearing the warning voices of their people and taking drastic steps to improve living conditions in increasingly frantic attempts to stave off revolution. But nowhere outside of Tunisia have developments been so radical, the spectacle so astonishing, as in Egypt. One of the most stable, secure and formidable of the Islamic world's dictatorships, Egypt is wooed by its Middle Eastern and North African neighbours and passionately courted by Washington and other western allies who have, in the past, preferred to see a reliable dictatorship in Cairo rather than a free and messy democracy. President Hosni Mubarak has muzzled most organized opposition and has at his disposal a large secret service, an even larger and loyal police force noted for its brutality in putting down demonstrations against the regime and a still larger army, although the army is beginning to feel a bit restive.
Among all the remarkable events that played out recently as Egyptians protest against Mr. Mubarak's government, one stands out. On Friday, in the midst of the largest demonstrations so far, protesters forced hundreds of riot police to flee the main square in downtown Cairo. The police did not immediately reappear, but some threw away their uniforms and badges and joined the demonstration.
It was a scene reminiscent of Tunis, when Tunisian police joined the revolution, a reminder that cannot have been missed by Mr. Mubarak and his government. As Cairo goes, so will go the new Islamic revolution, and Egypt right now is at a tipping point.