Paul Greenberg

Something new is being heard along the Nile: the sound of freedom. It always comes as a surprise to Egypt's rulers. For they have grown up seeing the great river flood, then recede. That rhythm has been the very life of Egypt over the ages, and not even when the river turns to blood can old Pharaoh believe anything will really change. He may resolve to change, at least publicly, but it is always too late. The years of indolence and apathy have taken their toll. Now the warning voices he regularly dismissed are turning out to have been prophetic.

Who would have guessed it? Certainly not the distinguished diplomats who send back dispatches remarkable only for their obtuseness. Washington's old Middle East hands, its wizened corps of Arabists, its fabled experts, have again proven expert only in ignoring that tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune but, ignored, consigns leaders to the shallows and misery of the rueful province known as what might-have-been.

Now, caught as flat-footed as their bosses at Foggy Bottom or in the White House, our experts scurry to provide explanations for their lack of explanations before, and which will probably be just as dim-eyed and tone-deaf.

It is an old, old story. Its plot line should be as familiar by now as a Sunday school lesson. Only the actors playing the familiar roles in this ancient pageant have changed. Little else of substance has since the author of Exodus first set it down. Now, after all these eons, the drama is played out again and the whole world, like an audience that's never seen this show before (we live in a biblically illiterate age), rubs its eyes in bewilderment and waits to see how it will come out. As if the ending will somehow be different this time.

The course of modern revolutions is scarcely something new and unpredictable. We've seen this movie before, and it's a B-grade biblical epic out of Cecil B. DeMille starring Charlton Heston -- or maybe Ronald Reagan, who had a talent for making the oldest of lessons, however corny, sound startlingly new, indeed a REVELATION! Though this lesson has been taught since the first tyrant assumed he was immune to the fate of his kind.

Somebody really should give every member of our diplomatic corps a copy of Crane Brinton's "Anatomy of a Revolution" -- if one can still be found in the rare history department that has not forsaken great history for substitutes like gender studies, number-crunching and miniaturized monographs. Professor Brinton, one of the good things to come out of Harvard, explained the course of all modern revolutions, that is, revolutions a la francaise, as neatly as an epidemiologist tracing the course of a familiar, parasitic disease:


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.