Given the fiscal bloodletting in Wall Street and London on Wednesday, the West and its bureaucrats be forgiven for its internal financial navel-gazing.
Nevertheless, a historic moment is occurring in Egypt where yesterday former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appeared in a court, in a cage, accused of having ordered the murder of hundreds of peaceful Egyptian protesters.
The image of a former Middle Eastern ruler, now subject to the justice of a system that has succeeded his brutal regime, has transfixed viewers not only in Egypt, but throughout the Middle East.
This is indeed the “trial of the century,” though the 21st century is as yet only 11 years old, and it would've well behoove the United States and Europe to pay extraordinarily close attention to proceedings in Cairo.
The “Arab spring” has now become a media cliché and its success is been mixed, from Tunisia and Egypt, where mass protests dethroned previous pro-western rulers, to as yet unresolved conflicts in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, where the governments have deployed massive military forces against protesters.
The year is coming to resemble nothing so much as Europe's revolutionary 1848, when for every revolution succeeded, counterrevolution triumphed.
Egypt, by virtue both of its history and its population, is the Arab world's superpower.
The fact that Hosni Mubarak is currently before a court has enormous implications, not only for the Middle East, but for the larger world.
Mubarak's detention sends a clear signal that governments determined to shoot down of hundreds of innocent protesters simply demanding their rights is no longer an acceptable practice and has put dictatorships on alert, from Morocco to the eastern Mediterranean, that autocrats seeking to sustain their power by repression may ultimately be held to account in a court of law.
This is as yet still dimly understood in the West, but its electrifying message is reverberating throughout the Middle East, and echoing throughout the Middle East’s two democracies, Turkey and Israel.
The issue here is one that the West has become increasingly squeamish about, accountability.
More than two centuries after the American and French revolutions, the Arab peoples of the Middle East seem to have embraced the principles of both, that “all men are created equal and have an inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence and “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good” from the 1789 French “Declaration of the Rights of Man.”
The impact of this situation and imagery is epochal, as this is the first time in modern Middle Eastern history that an Arab people have both ousted their leader and brought him to justice without outside intervention.
It sends a powerful message throughout the region, and to current ruling regimes with their citizens’ blood on their hands, to name but a few Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
The major issue here is how fair Mubarak's trial will ultimately prove to be. Like the 1946 Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leadership, it is essential that the new Egyptian government conduct a fair and transparent trial, rather than descend into the regional traditional pattern of old score settling.
It is unclear as yet as to how objective Mubarak's trial will be. The revolution that drove him from power hardly rooted out his sympathizers and political hacks from throughout the Egyptian government, while the elements repressed during more than 30 years of his rule can hardly be blamed for thirsting for revenge.
But the issues at stake in Mubarak’s trial extend far beyond Egypt and even the Middle East. As said earlier, it is an issue of accountability, and a country's leadership ultimately being held responsible to its people through a court of law.
If Egypt manages to produce a fair, objective and balanced trial, whatever the verdict ultimately is proves to be, it will not only send a powerful signal but provide an example as well for peoples around the world struggling for their freedom under oppressive governments.
On the other hand, if Mubarak's trial evolves into a farce whose sole objective is revenge, and the Middle East is where the phrase “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” originated, then the critical issue of advancing democracy in the Middle East will hardly be advanced.
Accordingly, despite Europe’s and America’s introspection over their current fiscal issues, every assistance should be accorded to the Egyptian government to ensure that Mubarak’s trial meets the highest standards of both Egyptian and international law, as so much is riding on its outcome.
Walk like an Egyptian.
By. John C.K. Daly