Paul Greenberg

Like all modern revolutions since the fashion was introduced in Paris, events in Egypt proceed a la francaise: in a series of successive shocks from right to left till the pendulum swings as far as it can, trembles for an uncertain moment (the Reign of Terror), and then swings back toward autocracy.

It's not a pattern confined to Egypt; there are aspiring pharaohs everywhere, patiently waiting to be recalled to life once the revolutionary process has been exhausted and the people are so desperate for order, they'll sacrifice anything for it, including their freedom. Only the exceptional nation may be able to escape such a fate. (God bless America and the generation of 1776!)

Where is Egypt now in this deadly cycle? Each stage of the process may be loosely identified with the name of the leader it throws up at the moment: Mirabeau, Danton, Marat, Robespierre ("Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue..."), and finally the inevitable Bonaparte who puts an end to all this nonsense with a whiff of grapeshot. And proceeds to replace the order he restored with his own egomaniacal ambition.

In what revolutionary stage is Egypt now? Somewhere between the Oath of the Tennis Court, when the bourgeois were riding the tiger for the moment, and the next, ever more violent act already in sight. Call it the Mirabeau moment.

Sure enough, a superannuated little trouper, a veteran of the diplomatic boards bearing a meaningless Nobel Prize, the equivalent of a political Oscar, has donned a costume much too big for him and volunteered for the role of Mirabeau. His name is Mohammed ElBaradei, and he's suddenly walked onstage to ask where the mob is headed so he may lead it. The real terror is yet to come.

The hope is that the process can be stopped at any time, that somebody with sense will throw a shoe in the revolutionary works to slow it down. Or even turn all its energy to a better purpose than a bloody fight for a public square.

The only thing certain is that somewhere, in a dusty barracks outside Cairo or Alexandria, or posted comfortably in the West as a military attache, an obscure (for the moment) colonel bides his time, waiting for his own moment. Maybe another Gamal Abdel Nasser licking his wounds after the Six Day War, or a Juan Peron watching Mussolini's rise in Italy and taking notes for future reference, still waiting to meet destiny and Eva Duarte.

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.