By Clarence Page

Egypt's latest pharaoh has surrendered his crown.

He was booted from his throne not by armies but through a groundswell of Twitter Age popular will. Let Egyptians celebrate. They've earned it. And let tyrants elsewhere tremble. They deserve to.

But, even as Egyptians celebrate, they would be wise to remember that their biggest challenges are only beginning. The same holds true for the Obama administration.

As the participants in Egypt's remarkably leaderless uprising try to organize their future, they would be wise to acknowledge a significant coincidence: President Hosni Mubarak just happened to announce his exit on the 21st anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from political imprisonment in South Africa.

There's a sobering message in that happenstance: The toughest job for revolutionaries comes after their revolution has been won.

First, they must prevent their revolution from being hijacked. The new boss can't be the same as the old boss.

That's saying a lot. South Africa's old apartheid regime kept Mandela locked up for 27 years because they feared a bloodbath. Instead, after his release on February 11, 1990, Mandela led his party in negotiations that, despite many bumps in the road, has led to a successful multiracial democracy.

Today, Americans argue about Egypt's future in much the same way that we argued during the Cold War about how South Africa's white-minority apartheid regime might best be nudged peacefully toward majority rule.

Mandela's ANC was accused by some of being the tip of the world communists' spear in the region. Back then, the biggest perceived threat to our interests was communism. Today it's terrorism. Mubarak has stayed in power for almost three decades of repression, cronyism and job-killing corruption by holding himself up as a bulwark against Islamist terror.

In Egypt, that means mainly the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious coalition that, despite Mubarak's repression, has grown enough in influence to elect 20 percent of the current parliament. Ironically, the Brotherhood's influence has grown partly because, for various reasons, Mubarak has not cracked won on them as hard as he has repressed secular alternatives.

Part of the reason why the Obama administration was slow to call for Mubarak's exit was the administration's fear that secular activists would not have enough time to organize into a strong alternative to the Brotherhood -- and a slide into an Iran-style theocracy.

Whether fears of a Brotherhood takeover are overblown or not, Egyptians need to guard the democratic impulse that led to Mubarak's overthrow. The United States can help, but not in ways that make it look as though we are trying to choose their government and leadership for them.

That paradox put Obama in a lose-lose situation. His critics were going to beat him up for calling too hastily or too slowly for Mubarak to leave, no matter what he said. Mubarak's abrupt departure let Obama off the hook.

It also vindicated President George W. Bush's "freedom agenda" that challenged the somewhat ethnocentric notion that Arabs aren't ready for democracy yet. Liberal commentators challenged Bush's agenda as naive or imperialist. Obama has practiced pretty much the same doctrine, only to be criticized by conservatives for caving in to Islamist extremism.

Pro-democracy Egyptians can prove the critics wrong and provide a model for others who have taken the streets elsewhere in their region. Mandela did it in South Africa. Egyptians can do it, too.

Obama can help. He can put together his own freedom agenda that, as one might presume from his past policies, would put at least as much emphasis on diplomacy as Bush put on military aggression.

It did not help our interests or the cause of democracy for America to be perceived as sitting on the sidelines while Egyptians or, two years ago, Iranians took the streets against their ruling autocrats. An Obama doctrine should let the world know this country supports democracy and will use its influence to help those who are dictatorially ruled to throw off their dictators.

Just as Mandela's background as a lawyer gave him a crucial reverence for the rule of law, a free press, independent political parties and the peaceful transfer of power, Obama the law professor needs to reaffirm those same principles.

We can't tell people in other lands how to vote, but we can do a lot to encourage political institutions and civil society that grants legitimacy to those who will protect freedom and deny it to those who don't.


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World - Mandela's Lesson for Egypt | Global Viewpoint