The world does really end with a whimper, not a bang, as T.S. Eliot said. After 31 years in power, seventeen days of protests, more than 300 dead and a shouting match between the US administration and its one-time Egyptian ally, it looks as if Hosni Mubarak will be leaving office tonight. Twitter is atwitter with news that the Egyptian strongman will soon make a TV appearance during which he is expected to hand power to newly-anointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman. Expect Tahrir Square to erupt in a festival of freedom, as the heroic, web-enabled protesters savour their unlikely but amazing victory.
But while Egypt’s revolution has been more successful than many in the US and British believed it could be, it is not yet the time to celebrate. For Omar Suleiman, Egypt likely next ruler, is no Ion Iliescu, the Romanian ex-Communist who replaced Nicolae Ceauşescu and ushered in democracy. Not only has Suleiman failed to engage seriously with any of the key demands of the opposition, he has also begun to warn darkly that the "intolerable" protest action must be speedily brought to an end.
Nor is it clear if Egypt’s protests can morph into a responsible movement for change. People like Daniel Johnson of Standpoint magazine has spoken for many when he argued Egypt doesn’t have the mechanics – such as an independent judiciary and a free press – that could implant democracy. In this, Suleiman agrees. Last weekend he argued that his country was "not ready" for democracy. As Coffee House regulars know, I passionately disagree. The protesters have already confounded those who believed they could not topple the Egyptian regime; that they would be overtaken by the darker forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and that they would have to forsake peaceful means and inevitably adopt Leninist tactics.
Though it may change, so far the protesters have succeeded without following the Egyptian government’s turn to violence and oppression. They – and their fellow countrymen – deserve greater faith than many in Britain, the US and Europe have extended. The best gift we can give to the people of Tahrir Square is our trust that they can handle the responsibility that comes with liberty, as well as honour our commitment that we will stand by them until they are truly free.