We are surprised, and no wonder. For the past decade, successive American administrations have sometimes paid lip service to democracy and freedom of speech in the Arab world. Some American organizations, official and unofficial - the National Endowment for Democracy comes to mind - have supported independent human rights activists in Egypt and elsewhere. Some American journalists, such as my Post colleague Jackson Diehl, have cultivated Egyptian democrats, interviewed them, written about them. But to American presidents and secretaries of state of both political parties, other issues - oil, Israel and then the war on terrorism - always seemed more important. Our aid subsidized the Egyptian army and police, and the Egyptians know it. In Cairo, police were firing tear gas labeled "Made in the USA" at protesters.
Our options are now limited. But there are a few, and we should exercise them immediately. We should speak directly to the Egyptian public, not only to its leaders. We should congratulate Egyptians for having the courage to take to the streets. We should smile and embrace instability. And we should rejoice - because change, in repressive societies, is good.