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Why is it that when popular revolutions occur, the main opponents on the ground always seem to be middle-aged men?

What is it about those men of my age group that drives them to kick some student’s head in, battering them with sticks and putting their lives on the line in defense of an evil and corrupt regime? Are the jails and torture houses similarly populated by such men in their forties and fifties who think nothing about snuffing out the idealism of youth?

Both Mubarak and Ahmadinejad used members of my cohort to quell the protestors.  Middle aged men: not wealthy, not well educated, just tough, brutal and sufficiently cynical to do whatever the incumbent regime asks of them.

It makes me feel sick that the young idealists of twenty and thirty years ago often become the shady individuals holding the batons, the guns and the pliers.

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via Hawkes77 / Flickr / CC Licensed

Like many people, I was stuck to my computer on Friday as the news about Hosni Mubarak’s departure from the political stage was announced in Cairo.

The Egyptian protestors deserve worldwide acclaim by the way they conducted themselves. Some have said they deserve a Nobel Prize, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s rare enough to see those qualities we all aspire to on display: courage, dignity, resilience, the refusal to stay silent in the face of injustice and a single-minded yearning for the freedoms many of us take for granted.

Yesterday, the young people of Egypt gave the world a timely reminder that they are not so different to the rest of us. At the core, they want the same things as us, and who are we to tell them they can’t have them, purely as a result of an accident of birth?

This is the beauty of democracy. Although it’s no panacea: corruption, economic collapse, inequality and injustice do not respect political forms; it nevertheless gives people a say in the way their country is run, it entitles them to have their say, no matter how unpalatable the message, and it keeps would-be autocrats at bay. It demands that bloodless coups – free elections – become part of the woodwork, so that the powerful can never outstay their welcome. To our great shame, we in the democratised lands have looked blithely askance when questioning why it shouldn’t be available to everyone in the world, not just in the so-called West. Wasn’t it from similar tyrannies that many of our own democracies originated?

It is important for us all that the Egyptians are given our full support as they transition to democracy. The same is true for Tunisia and the other soon-to-be-freed nations of the Middle East and North Africa. History is slowly moving our world in the direction of democratic freedom for all.

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