On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Never overstay, a lesson from Cairo

We don’t know what his cronies have been telling him but a majority of the people who gathered at Tahrir Square over the past two weeks certainly knew who Mubarak was.

They wanted him to go. They had already grown tired of his leadership and irrespective of what he has done for Egypt as a war hero, they were not going to miss him.

Getting rid of Mubarak in this arguably short, bloodless revolution is the easy part. No one is clear as to what will happen next, however.

For the time being, the Egyptians are just jubilant that they have managed to get rid of the man they regard as a despot.

Mubarak has passed the baton to his deputy, Omar Suleiman, who is said to be another hugely unpopular figure. He is regarded as being too close to the United States and Israel, and has been accused of being a CIA agent.

But the transition, or Mubarak’s resignation, could not be carried out until the United States had accepted someone they were comfortable with. In this case, it was Suleiman.

In the early days of the uprising, the Obama administration had stood behind Mubarak.

The American media, including CNN, seemingly took their time to cover the unfolding historic event.

US President Barack Obama himself at first suggested that Mubarak should go, and then reversed his stand, saying that the Egyptian president should remain in office until September when elections would be held.

Now, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has thrown her weight behind Suleiman.

There are fears across Europe that with Mubarak gone, Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood will take over the leadership, which would be disastrous for their geo-political interests.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly expressed his concerns that it might turn into an Iranian style revolution. He was quoted as saying: “I hope with all my heart for Egypt’s nascent democracy that they take time to create the structures and principles that will help them find the path to democracy and not another form of dictatorship, religious dictatorship, as happened in Iran.”

Such fears are not entirely unfounded.

During the Iranian Revolution, the people ousted the Shah of Iran, which then saw the return of Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been in exile in France, to take over the leadership.

Decades later, the people who had celebrated the fall of the Shah must be thinking differently about what they had wished for.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. They had dumped a corrupt monarchy only to trade it for a repressive, theocratic regime. Democracy is now regarded as a Western concept that is unsuitable in the religious structure of their country; and when the name of God is invoked, not many of the faithful would dare to challenge the men in religious cloaks.

Many liberal and talented Iranians, unable to stand the choking religious-political make-up of their country, have left their once moderate homeland for Europe.

As of now, we are still unclear where Egypt is heading. Will the United States and Europe prop up the non-credible Suleiman or will the army generals call the shots until a genuine presidential election is called this autumn?

One thing is for sure, though. No one – whether it’s Suleiman, the army or the Islamists – should ever take the people for granted.

They have gathered by the thousands demanding reforms and, having succeeded, they would do so again if they have to.

They know they can mobilise themselves. As some have correctly said, for the first time a people’s revolution has taken shape and succeeded via SMS, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Times have changed but, unfortunately, Mubarak did not notice the Internet Generation. Perhaps he was arrogant or was simply out of touch.

Mubarak is now on retirement at the seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh whereas Tunisia’s ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has run off to Saudi Arabia.

Many Arab leaders must be having nightmares now.

Despite their horrendous human rights records, with elections non-existent in their countries, they have escaped world scrutiny because they are oil producers and allies of the United States. So the US media looked the other way, preferring to land their punches instead on China, an economic rival.

Let’s not look far. In Malaysia, we have our fair share of politicians who should have long ago called it a day and left to spend their time doting on their grandchildren.

But they are still around, insisting that their work has not been completed. They are there on both sides of the political divide.

The Egyptian lesson is for all. Never overstay in politics – people will get sick and tired of you.