Through simultaneous popular revolts around the world, we can get a glimpse into the character of political leaders. On the one hand, you have Egypt. It’s people have been able to depose its 30-year autocrat, Hosni Mubarak without much bloodshed. On the other hand, you have Egypt’s neighbor, Libya. It’s people have not yet been able to depose its 40-year autocrat, Muammar al-Gaddafi. And there has been much bloodshed.
These leaders both clung to power in the face of protests, but only one has gone to war against his own people in order to maintain it. It may be that this is not a contrast in character at all; it may merely contrast the relative military strengths of these two leaders in the midst of crisis. However, Gaddafi has insisted that he will fight until death, and Mubarak could have adopted a similar pose of stubbornness, but he did not.
What does it say about a leader who is more willing to see his/her people suffer and die rather than that leader lose some power and control? For me it does not represent true leadership. True leaders focus on the hopes and dreams of the whole rather than personal gain and fame.
Of course, the problem is that leaders are prone to see any resistance as having its origin outside the group being led. In both Egypt and Libya, those supporting the status-quo have imagined that the protests were funded and led by foreigners. There comes a time, though, when the sacrifices of those who stand up to object overwhelm such accusations.
Some of this same dynamic is playing out in our own country. The situation is different enough to prohibit any easy comparisons, but one thing remains: each of our leaders who are being challenged by protests show his or her character in the way she or he responds. We should all pay attention because it isn’t often that we get to glimpse into the character of a politician. In American politics, most demonstrations of “character” are well-scripted affairs. Now are are seeing how our leaders respond when surprised by events.