The situation in Egypt remains hazy after two weeks of protests while a caretaker vice president is announcing a series of concessions on behalf of President Hosni Mubarak. The cabinet was replaced, the top leaders of the ruling party were purged and many promises were made to guarantee freedom of the press and other civil liberties. Most importantly, Vice President Omar Suleiman is meeting representatives of opposition groups, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, to discuss how to settle the turmoil.
U.S. President Obama, who had called on Mubarak to take immediate steps for transition, said Monday that Egypt was “making progress” toward a path forward out of the political crisis. He may have concerns that an instant exit of Mubarak would create a power vacuum that could be filled by radical Islamic movements as in Iran three decades ago.
However, protesters in Cairo demand Mubarak step down now. Many believe that the current regime only tries to earn time with all the sweet concessions and is preparing to take revenge on them when demonstrations cease. Watching them on the other side of the globe, we understand their hopes and fears, and wish that they can exercise both pressure on the regime and self-restraint, picking up lessons from the histories of new democracies, including Korea.
Korea’s student uprising in 1960 resulted in the departure of President Syngman Rhee but the new democratic government hampered by partisan contests gave way to a military coup in less than a year. The second wave of pro-democracy movements following Park Chung-hee’s 18-year dictatorship and eight more years of military-backed rule brought about a step-by-step transition through peaceful changes of power first to an Army general-turned president and then to a civilian leadership.
The Egyptian republic started by Nasser’s coup in 1952 came a long way through Anwar Sadat’s 11-year presidency and three decades under Mubarak to enter the chapter of democratic development. It took more than 30 years for Korea to progress from revolution to a stable democracy. We hope the Egyptians will be able to shorten the process.