As the jubilation spread across Tahrir Square with the announcement of Hosni Mubarak's departure, one can only imagine what was running through the mind of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he watched. Or that of Saudi King Abdullah. Or Jordan's King Abdullah. Or of any of the region's autocratic leaders. We know that over the past several days the Saudis, the Emiratis, and the Jordanians had urged support for the status quo. So too, for that matter, had Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
And while the drama unfolding in Egypt today is profound and powerful, it clearly marks the end of only the first scene of the first act of what will be a long twisting drama. Many questions hang in the air about what comes next. What will the transition look like? Will the Army truly allow the emergence of a pluralistic, representative model government? Will the interim government have the savvy to present such a road map early enough to placate activists? Will the process be transparent enough? Will international observers be invited to monitor elections? Will real democracy be supported by broader changes than just in election laws?
These and thousands of other questions swirl around like the flags and cheers in the square and across Cairo. But one thing is certain: A change of this magnitude in the most populous nation in the Arab world is a devastating blow to the status quo. And given the nature of the Middle East, the troubles that have dogged the region's people for decades, and the degree of complicity their leaders have had in creating and exacerbating those troubles, that alone is something for people around the world to celebrate.
We must approach this as any other momentous transition with caution and patience and determination not to let gains slip away over time. Many with dubious motives will seek to turn this transition to their advantage. We in the United States must do what we can to support the true interests of the people of Egypt who made it possible and help them to resist those usurpers and would-be corruptors.
But those efforts are for tomorrow. For today, there is a sense that even in the place in the world that seemed most resistant to change, true, profound, and long-overdue transformation is possible.