As Egypt continues its lurch toward dystopia and while the rest of the world watches, there are a couple of stories from history that should be remembered. One happened a little over 30 years ago and the other more than 60 years before that. And they both bear significant similarities to what is going on right now.
Of course, the more recent one has been discussed much in the past week or so, with its eerie resemblance to the current crisis in Egypt. A strong dictator, opposed by various elements in his country, has hung onto power far too long. Sure, he has been an ally of the United States, but everyone freely acknowledges that he should have long ago listened to the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler—especially the part about when to walk away and when to run.
But we all know how the story played out in Iran. Out went the Shah and in came Sharia. To put it in Reagan-esque terms, we might ask: “Is the world better off than it was 30 years ago?”
By the way, just an aside here—but what’s the deal with President Barack Obama not supporting the people protesting in the streets of Tehran a while back, yet now supporting those in Egypt? Does he have a blind spot when it comes to Islamic states and a bias toward potential new ones?
The other relevant story from history happened in early march of 1917, when the city of Petrograd (the name had been changed from St. Petersburg in 1914), then the capital of the Russian empire, was in very much the same kind of turmoil as what is going on now in Cairo. Hungry people took to the streets demanding bread and demonstrating their overall contempt for the authoritarian Tsar, Nicholas II. The autocrat ordered his troops to suppress the strikers, but they soon turned to the side of the protestors and Nicky’s days were quickly numbered. Within in a few days the Tsar ordered the Duma (a largely benign parliamentary body) to suspend sessions. But remarkably, the Duma muscled up and refused.
Cue the music.
Nicholas II abdicated the throne and tried to put his brother Michael in charge in an attempt to pacify the protestors. Michael was slightly smarter than Nicholas (though the Tsar had not set that bar very high) and declined on the Ides of March that year, effectively ending the 300-year Romanov dynasty.