Egyptians look as if they have had enough of President Hosni Mubarak and his government. For the first time in three decades of his rule, they have ignored a curfew and poured onto the streets in the hundreds of thousands, demanding the right to choose their leader. Throughout that time they have had stability, but for many that no longer seems a reasonable tradeoff for the arrogance, corruption, nepotism, loss of rights and lack of concern for the poor that they have increasingly had to endure. Democracy has its imperfections, but many feel it is the only way ahead for their country. Parliamentary elections last year were farcically rigged. The main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, lost the few seats it held. Hundreds of its members and other critics of the government languish in prison. With presidential polls being held in September and all signs pointing to Mubarak's son, Gamal, succeeding him, the discontent sparked last month in Tunisia was bound to thunder east. Mubarak has tried to calm tensions. For the first time since taking power in 1981, he has appointed a vice- president, trusted aide and long-time intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. But Egyptians do not want or need a hand-picked successor. They want to be free to decide who they want to govern them. The Brotherhood would seem a natural choice, but conservative and secular Egyptians are not so sure. They worry that once in government, like Mubarak, it will not want to let go. Perhaps it will scrap the peace treaty with Israel, casting aside a document that more than any other pact is keeping Muslims and Jews from all-out conflict. There is, consequently growing support for Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Dozens of people have been killed over the past week by security forces acting under government orders. There would not have been so many lives lost had Egypt been a democratic nation. Democracy is not a guarantee of efficient government, but it does ensure a peaceful transition of power. Democrats and Republicans in the US do not see eye to eye, for example, but the shift from former president George W. Bush to Barack Obama went without a gunshot being fired, with no protests in the streets, with daily life and business going on as usual. By contrast, the transition from one leader to another in an autocracy like Egypt's is more often than not messy, with anger, protests and frequently, senseless killings. Economies come to a standstill and trade and tourism are shut off. The end of the dictatorships of Indonesia's Suharto and the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos were exactly that - the countries were saved from anarchy only by the ushering in of democracy. The world's autocrats and dictators are nervously watching events in Egypt. They have relied on the stability their regimes have brought to keep discontent at bay. Some have allowed a measure of freedom, often through the media, as a safety valve. When they feel their power is threatened, though, they have been quick to snatch back the little that they have permitted. Mubarak is at a crossroads. He has tried to satisfy protesters' wishes with his vice-presidential choice, and failed. Governments around the world are demanding a peaceful resolution. He can further loosen controls or tighten them. But if he genuinely cares about Egypt's future, he has got only one option: to stand down at the next election and ensure that it is a free and fair contest.