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Five (Early) Lessons from the Egyptian Revolution

Today’s dramatic events in Cairo and the departure of Hosni Mubarak from power may bring to a close the first stage in what is nothing short of a revolution in Egypt’s politics and society.

What have we learned from these extraordinary last eighteen days?  I can think of five immediate lessons worth thinking about.

First, People Power achieved this victory. For those of us who have lived in Egypt, what was always most impressive about that fascinating but impoverished country was the energy, optimism and resourcefulness of a people who had been dominated by royal and military rulers for the last century.   Their idealism, passion and steadfastness during the last eighteen days overcame all of the power, privilege and cynicism of the government and overwhelmed it in the end.  The role of Facebook, Twitter, Al Jazeera and CNN in magnifying the voices and faces from Tahrir Square was breathtaking  and surely indicative of a new brand of politics in this still new century.
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Burns: Obama’s delicate balancing act in Egypt

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Nicholas Burns has followed up his Feb. 3 blog post on Egypt on Power & Policy with a contribution to an online forum on Foreign Policy.com. Burns says President Obama is skillfully walking a dangerous diplomatic tightrope as he works for democratic change while avoiding chaos in the region.

Burns, who was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008 before joining the Belfer Center at the Kennedy School, participated in a roundtable forum hosted by FP that called on some of the top thinkers on US policy-making in the Middle East, including Elliot Abrams, Thomas Pickering and Aaron David Miller.

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Egypt: Outcome may differ from aspirations of protesters

Graham Allison weighs potential alternative futures for Egypt in an assessment of the potential implications for the United States in the turmoil engulfing its largest Arab ally. In a contribution to a virtual panel of experts on The Mark, a … Continue reading >

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Crisis in Egypt: in Defense of ‘Quiet’ American Diplomacy

The people’s rebellion in Egypt is the most daunting and  dangerous foreign policy test of the Obama Presidency.  And, it got a lot harder on Wednesday.   Shocking violence by pro-Mubarak armed gangs against largely peaceful protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square raised the stakes both for an embattled Hosni Mubarak and for the U.S. government.

The attacks appear to be the first strike in a counter-offensive by Egyptian security forces to take back the streets of Cairo and reverse the momentum of the reformers who, until Wednesday, appeared on the verge of  unseating Mubarak after thirty years in power.  Watching the discipline and uniformity of the pro-Mubarak forces in Cairo on Wednesday led many  around the world, myself included, to suspect that they were acting in concert with security forces or were part of the security establishment themselves.  Whoever they were, they have turned this crisis in a new and more menacing direction.

Mubarak and his hard-line supporters may believe that they can regain authority and control in Cairo.  But, it is more likely that their actions will lead to further protests, instability and violence.  After Wednesday’s events, Mubarak should resign and ask a transitional government, backed by the Army, to lead the country towards reform and an eventual election.
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Power and Policy in An Information Age

As authoritarian Arab regimes struggle with Twitter and Al Jazeera inflamed-demonstrations; Iran tries to cope with the cyber sabotage of its nuclear enrichment program; and American diplomats try to understand the impact of Wikileaks, it is clear that smart policy in an information age will need a more sophisticated understanding of power in world politics.

That is the argument of my new book The Future of Power. Two types of power shifts are occurring in this century – power transition and power diffusion. Power transition from one dominant state to another is a familiar historical event, but power diffusion is a more novel process. The problem for all states in today’s global information age is that more things are happening outside the control of even the most powerful states. In the words of Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (and once a faculty member at the Kennedy School),  “the proliferation of information is as much a cause of nonpolarity as is the proliferation of weaponry.”

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