Then there is the matter of "color revolutions," starting with the October 2000 coup in Serbia that established the template for them. By now, every time there is a "democratic popular uprising" somewhere, the first question on many minds is whether the Empire is really behind it.
I've heard such a question raised about Tunisia and Egypt over the past couple weeks. While I've seen some flags inspired by the CIA-trained and NED-funded "Otpor"movement in Serbia, and heard that some of the protest organizers were similarly trained, I still doubt the Empire was behind this deliberately. Both Ben Ali and Mubarak have been Imperial stooges for years; what possible reason could there be for getting rid of them, and in such a fashion besides?
Therefore, I am inclined to believe that the Tunisian revolt at least was quite spontaneous, and if Egypt may have been given a little push, that doesn't make the revolution there any less authentic. One Serbian journalist described the protesters as "hungry for freedom but fed up with Empire." That might be a projection of his wishes for Serbia - but it sounds about right nonetheless.
H.L. Mencken once wrote that "democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." I think we're about to see this demonstrated firsthand.
The protesters in Tunisia and Egypt claim to want democracy and freedom. If the Empire truly wants to help them (ha!) it will stay away. But the Empire cannot go against its nature. For all that he proclaims that the "people of Egypt" will decide their future, the Emperor follows that with a list of what "must" happen. How very democratic of you, Mr. Hussein.
For all its verbal commitment to freedom and democracy (as long as they get to define what both those words mean in practice, anyway), the Imperial establishment is running scared. They know all too well that in turbulent times, those with determination and clarity of vision come out ahead. Right now, the revolutionaries know what they don't want - Ben Ali and Mubarak, and their cronies - but it is people like the Muslim Brotherhood and Rachid Ganouchi who know what they do want, and are waiting in the wings to seize it. And there isn't much the Empire can do to stop them.
What if Islamic regimes do take over? It will be a pity for those Egyptians and Tunisians who didn't want that to happen, for one, but will it really be a disaster for the Empire? I mean, it will free up all that foreign aid that went to Cairo and Tunis for decades. And hasn't the current Emperor, like his predecessor, gone on about how the Empire isn't at war with Islam or the Muslims? So what's the problem, exactly?
Well, there is the whole matter of the Muslim Brotherhood wanting to wipe Israel off the map. Honestly, though, the Israeli military has soundly beaten the Egyptians in conventional wars four times in the past 63 years. The fastest way for that expensive US hardware in Egyptian hands to turn into a heap of scrap metal is for a hypothetical Brotherhood regime to attempt an attack on Israel.
Camp David made Israelis believe that trading land for peace was a real possibility. It also shifted the Arab-Israeli conflict from the realm of interstate conventional warfare (in which Israel excelled) to that of a low-intensity insurrection conducted by sub-state actors (the intifada, Hamas, Hezbollah), where Israel has fared much worse. So the possibility of a hostile, Islamic Egypt shouldn't really induce histrionics among the partisans of Israel, the way it seems to be doing.
If anything, given the importance of the Suez route for its possibilities of trading with Europe (in light of the recent acquisitions of Greek ports), it is China that ought to be concerned about the future of Egypt and its relationship with Israel. Yet we don't hear much fretting from Beijing.
From a historical perspective, odds are the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt will propel to power a more radical and violent regime (see Cromwell in England, the Jacobins in France, the Bolsheviks in Russia...). The silver lining would be the demise of the pernicious illusion - promoted by the Empire - that democracy means freedom (it doesn't; they are just about mutually exclusive, actually), and that everyone around the world should aspire to it. That may well be too much to ask, though. And besides - we should be careful what we wish for. We might just get it, good and hard.