Feb 11 2011, 11:43 AM ETThe country’s autocratic regime is far too entrenched simply to be gone within a week — or maybe even a generationAfter two and half weeks of protests, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned the presidency he’d held since 1981. According to a brief announcement from Vice President Omar Suleiman, the high council of Egypt’s powerful military will take over the leadership of the country. Though the military issued a statement pledging Constitutional reforms, an end to the decades-long state of emergency, and a transfer to a free democracy, it’s not clear how that will happen or when. Whatever happens next, Egypt appears to now be entering a new era. But it is not the first country to set out on the long and difficult path from autocracy to democracy.
On August 19, 1991, when recently elected Soviet Presidium Boris Yeltsin climbed one of the tanks occupying Red Square to diffuse an attempted coup by nationalist hardliners, as well as the pro-democracy protesters flooding the streets, it looked to many like the end of the much-despised Soviet regime. Twenty years later, the Russian democracy remains dominated by Soviet officials and all their bad habits, from low-level bureaucracies all the way to the office of the Prime Minister, which is held by a former officer with the KGB. Civil rights in Russia are scarce, with dissidents regularly arrested and journalists turning up dead. Transparency International ranks Russia as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, below Iran, Haiti, and Yemen.
With Mubarak’s departure, the Soviet Union’s dissolution provides an important lesson. Even with Mubarak gone, Mubarak’s Egypt — composed of countless bureaucracies, institutions, and officials — is likely to remain for a generation or more. This one man’s departure is an historic moment for Egypt and for the Middle Eastern struggle for democracy. But the arbitrary, corrupt, and violent regime that Mubarak has spent 29 years constructing will not disappear with him.