Up until this last week, Egypt was one of the more stable nations of the Middle East, at least from the perspective of outsiders, but a civilian uprising demanding President Hosni Mubarak to step down and calling for democracy has thrown the country into chaos.
The citizen rebellion — with reports of more than 100,000 taking to the streets of Cairo — comes on the heels of a successful uprising in nearby Tunisia resulting in a regime change (though what Tunisia's new government will look like is still unclear).
It's difficult to write about Egypt's situation; information is constantly changing and updating, a testament to the role that online journalism and social networking plays in our future. As we write this, Mubarak is still in power and seemingly igniting even more anger by appointing the country's intelligence chief as vice president. The citizens accuse Egypt's police of thuggery and abuse. More than 100 have reportedly died in the skirmishes. Anything could change tomorrow.
It's important to take note that in both countries, the citizenry have taken the lead in attempting to force change. An outside country has not come in and attempted to take responsibility for "nation-building." This does not mean, of course, that other nations may not or will not provide assistance or support. But it does mean that, if the rebellion succeeds, it is yet more evidence that Western nations shouldn't be taking the kind of direct role in attempting to influence a country's governance the way they have in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We've said it before and we'll say it again — you cannot force a nation to embrace concepts of liberty and democracy. It has to come from within, or else it will crumple and collapse as soon as the occupying force leaves. We don't predict liberty flowering soon in Iraq and most assuredly not in Afghanistan.
For that matter, it may not yet flower in either Tunisia or Egypt. But the seeds have been set by the nation's own citizens. They have made it abundantly clear that they're willing to do what it takes — even putting their own lives on the line — to push for a freer society.
It will be up to them to keep pushing even in the face of even harsher oppression. Our role should be to advise and assist, but never lead the way.