Some regimes outlast their time: starting with the end of Imperial Russia, and continuing through to the end of communism in eastern Europe, it was the sign that Governments were past their useful life when the people rose and threw them out. It was the point at which the door had rotted away, and could easily be kicked in.
This would have happened in then South Vietnam, had the US Government not clung for so long to the idea that they could hold back the Viet Cong when the regime in Saigon was so detested by its own people. It then happened, whether the West liked it or not, in Iran as the hated Shah left, just in time.
It happened in Portugal and then in Spain, as the dictatorships of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco fell. And it happened across the former Eastern Bloc as the regimes in the line of buffer states that the former USSR held close to them, out of fear of another invasion like that of the Third Reich, collapsed.
When time runs out, some, like the Shah of Iran, know that the game is up and they have to go. Others cling to power, often hiding behind their security apparatus and relying on it to suppress dissent, but the end result is the same, even if the inevitable is held briefly at bay. In any case, trying to hold back opposition usually means creating more martyrs, making the final dénouement yet more certain and correspondingly violent.
Recently, the door rotted away in Tunisia, and the Government there ultimately accepted defeat. Now, revolt has spread to Egypt, a much more populous country and an important ally of the West. President Hosni Mubarak has held the country in an iron grip for 30 years, but he is now 82 years old, and his son has reportedly fled.
Street protests have grown in number and intensity all week, whatever the actions of Egypt’s security forces. The impression is given that ordinary people have lost any sense of fear, are demanding change, and have had enough. Another door is rotting away, live on air.
For Hosni Mubarak, the game is up, and it is time to go. Let us hope that he goes quietly and without major bloodshed.