Beware the curse of Mubarak’s tomb


I'm still here!

Sir Joseph Whemple: [translating inscription] “Death [and] eternal punishment for anyone who opens this casket. In the name of Amon-Ra, the king of the gods.” Good heavens, what a terrible curse!
Ralph Norton: [eagerly] Well, let’s see what’s inside!

— from the screenplay of The Mummy, 1932

Hosni Mubarak has resigned — abdicated is more like it — and he’s as good as dead, right? In body, maybe, but his spirit will live on after the euphoria of the people he tormented for 30 years has faded.

Which is not to say our Arab friends uncorked their champagne substitutes too early, or that they shouldn’t be commended for bum-rushing the pharoah. There may yet be a bloodbath, but one can’t help being impressed when relatively peaceful protesters prevail, or at least appear to prevail, over the guys who hold the guns.

Inevitable comparisons between Egypt 2011 and Germany 1989 are being made. I was working in a newsroom in `89, when the East Germans were hacking away at the Berlin Wall. Everyone knew the world was changing, but was it changing for the good? Yes and no. Tyrants were overthrown, rights were reclaimed, but the dog-eat-dog version of capitalism that replaced Soviet-style communism did little to relieve poverty and injustice in Russia and many of its former satellite states.

It’s telling that no one in Washington, D.C., seemed to know what was happening in Egypt, even as it happened. Barack Obama’s instinct in critical moments — to respond with caution bordering on timidity — served him well. Republican uglies (imagine any of them siding with “the people” against the ruling class!) also got lucky, because they were too surprised by the revolution to put a convincingly negative spin on it.

We should enjoy Egypt’s great moment while it lasts and ignore American politicians who applaud the possible advent of democracy in the Arab world. Most of them are cheering unregulated capitalism, not democracy. If the latter was important to them, they’d take on the robber barons who are destroying what’s left of democracy in America. (See Bob Herbert for more on this.)

The Mubaraks of the world never quite go away because people everywhere, when desperate, tend to wonder if resurrecting an all-powerful ruler would set things right. (Let’s see what’s inside!) During the Great Depression, Germany saw in Hitler a new Frederick the Great. Italy mistook Mussolini for a Caesar. America opted for FDR, but only because most of the country maintained some faith in the democratic process. No one, not even Amon-Ra, can say for sure that Americans will keep the faith this time around.

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