There is great concern now about what happens to places like Tunisia and Egypt now that the strong man rulers are gone. Egypt is said to be in chaos, with many of the practices of the Mubarak regime still be imposed, only by different people. It is clear that the post-revolutionary period is very difficult and will take a long time to play out.
I am reminded of Portugal in 1975. After almost 50 years of right wing oppression, they got rid of their dictator in 1974, but that was far from the end of turmoil. Portugal was a big mess, but a generally peaceful place despite news coverage of bombs and bonfires that reached American television.
Demonstrations were a daily event. Streets were blocked, roads leading into the middle of Lisbon were backed up, work spun to a halt. Revolutionary slogans and songs filled the air, day and night. Even four and five year old children were sing song chanting \"The people is the Army, the Army is the people\" (in Portuguese, of course). Police officers were rendered impotent, irrelevant, but life and commerce went on. Ordinary laws were considered petty annoyances, but chaos did not follow.
The big drama there was whether the communists would take over from the long running rulers, the fascists. The repressive social measures that had been in place for decades, with women wearing long skirts and any sort of erotic imagery banned from television and magazines, disappeared overnight. Portugal went from the 19th century to the late 20th overnight and survived.
Flash forward 25 years to the turn of the new century and Lisbon was transformed into one of the economic wonders of Europe. What had been the poorest nation on the continent caught up with the rest and the ancient streets of the city were shared with new restaurants, night clubs and a multitude of other entertainment options.
When freedom comes, the inherent character of a nation is more important than ever. In Portugal, there was a long tradition of talking, talking and talking some more rather than fighting. Yes, there were serious incidents of violence in the aftermath of the peaceful revolution, but the whole post-revolutionary period ended peacefully with military men weeping as they put down their guns and left their tanks for a final time. Portugal was, and is, a nation where people believed in each other and commonality in daily life.
Egypt is not Portugal, of course, and like the rest of the middle-east, there are strong forces pulling it apart while it tries to stitch together a new way of life. Oppression of the population there is not a recent invention. The printed word was not even allowed in the Arab world until the 19th century, four hundred plus years after it was available in Europe. Religion and autocratic rulers have often worked together to keep the population in place.
I would not be quite so pessimistic as some in regard to continuing military rule, nor in regard to torture and other acts of violence continuing in Egyptian life, even though they still exist right now. In a sense, a fundamental revolution in society never ends, so long as the hopes and promises embodied in that original movement are pursued by a broad base of people or, as in our own country's case, put forward in a constitution that continues to guide and inspire. We are still fighting over the meaning of our own revolution, even though those battles are cloaked in other terms.
Doug Terry 3.31.11