This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 02/02/2011
Nobody said it better than Hosni Mubarak: "Our eventual goal is to create an equal society, not a society of privileges and class distinctions. Social justice is the first rule for peace and stability in society." But that was in November 1981, a few weeks after he had become president of Egypt.
The transition from the Mubarak era began yesterday, with the president's announcement that he won't seek reelection in September. He's on his way out, but it's still far from clear where Egypt is heading.
The most hopeful sign for the future is that the Egyptian military now holds the balance of power. It is the one institution that Mubarak has not been able to corrupt. Indeed, across the turbulent Arab world, it's a paradox that strong armies are now platforms for change.
In truth, wars that Bush either started or couldn't prevent - in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza - blunted reform hopes. Bush meant well by his "freedom agenda," but he pulled the reformists down with him.
That's why Assad today is less vulnerable than Mubarak was: His regime is at least as corrupt and autocratic, but it has remained steadfastly anti-American and anti-Israel. Hard as it is for us in the West to accept, this rejectionism adds to Assad's power, whereas Mubarak was diminished by his image as the West's puppet.
It's encouraging to see that the demonstrators in the streets of Cairo, Amman and Sanaa are not shouting the same tired slogans about "death to America" and "death to Israel" that for several generations have substituted for political debate. And it's reassuring, as well, that the Muslim Brotherhood and other militant groups have so far played it cool. They know that the past "decade of jihad" was ruinous for Muslims and is unpopular.
"This is not about slogans," says Mroueh. "The real issue is life: I want an apartment, I want a job." And it's about the dignity that comes from these essential human needs. In reaching out to the military, the protesters have chosen the right allies for a path of stability and change.