President Obama declared: The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same.”
An article in NPR points out: “The characters in the story of this past week in Egypt are many. An affluent 30-year-old Google executive, who regularly teared up during an emotional television interview; factory workers who walked off their posts; doctors who wore frocks as they marched to Midan Tahrir to join the throngs there. They show the nation’s diversity conjoined, for now, in a rock-solid consensus. One couldn’t help but see how comprehensive this movement has been, how diverse and far-reaching today’s celebrations.”
It’s the greatest day of my life,” Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei told NPR’s Robert Siegel. “I couldn’t have imagined that I would live long enough to see Egypt emancipated from decades of repression.”
ElBaradei said that “every Egyptian [now] feels … a sense of hope” and “every Egyptian is a different Egyptian today.”
How can I even write what I want to express? This is the stuff of tears and dreams and miracles.
I know I sit here, an American citizen, overlooking the Wasatch Valley, enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate and all the freedom I could ever desire. I have never experienced the suffering and sorrow as so many of these Egyptians, but I still reach out to them in humanity and feel for them. I am interested in their plight, because it affects us all and I believe we can learn from history, we can learn from others.
I want to take note of Egypt right now. I am living as this history is being made and one day, in 30 years, I will look back at these happenings and have some answers. What will happen?
I don’t know much about the history of Egypt, but I’ve been listening to the news the past few days and have gathered a bit. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the situation, but to re-cap:
Hosni Mubarak has been Egypt’s dictator for the past 30 years. He controls everything, as dictators tend to do and of course, lacquers his life, his family’s lives, his cronies lives with the coffers of the state’s wealth. Meanwhile, Egypt has slid into further poverty, illiteracy and corruption. We, in the U.S. don’t like dictators and try not to support them, but the US has chosen to overlook Mubarak, preferring stability over democracy. Mubarak is supportive of keeping the fundamentalist Muslims at bay, he also upholds the 1979 Egypt/ Israeli peace treaty, in regards to the Gaza strip. The US has been a top ally of Egypt, despite the fact that Mubarak is a destructive leader affecting millionsof lives.
So that’s a bit of our relationship with Egypt, in a nutshell. Meanwhile, the Egyptians have reached the boiling point and their despair and hope have brought them together as a country to revolt against Mubarak and his government, demanding he leave office. (I really don’t mean to make this sound all “tidy”, but I’m not a great writer, so there it is) And on February 11, 2011 Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed control to the military on Friday after 30 years in office. The announcement by Vice President Omar Suleiman electrified hundreds of thousands of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, who hugged one another and chanted, “The people have brought down the regime!
So this is what has happened, but let’s take a closer look:
First: “The people have brought down the regime.”- A lot of times, around the dinner conversation, we will talk about foreign governments, corrupt governments, despot leaders, evil leaders and what should be done? Was it good to invade Iraq or should we have left it to the people of Iraq to bring down their leader? We often declare that only the people of a repressive regime must fight for change, that other nations should stay out, mind their own business. Other countries trying to free a people, could actually make things worse. We smugly declare that each people should free themselves.
What has history taught us? First of all, history repeatedly teaches us there are no absolutes- there are always exceptions. But history also teaches us that we can bet money on generalities. From what I know of the past and present, it is extremely difficult to change oppressive leaders, especially leaders who have been in power for decades . It rarely happens. And its not because “the people” haven’t risen up and fought back, it’s not because the people aren’t desperate for a better life, it’s because the very act of “revolution” is a complicated, fragile, dangerous and almost Lucky thing to accomplish.
As you know, despot leaders DON”T want to give up their power- that’s part of their crazy. Mubarak was 80 something years old! He had been in control for 30 years! He was never going to give up his power on anybody’s terms except his own and then to someone he chose. And despot leaders gain and maintain their power through whatever it takes. They kill, they jail, they torture and they kill more. They kill a lot. You have to murder, to be a despot leader- there’s no other way about it.
There are numerous examples of people wanting change, trying to organize resistance groups and alternative political parties. People speaking out with a clear voice, people with passion and powerful intellect. But usually these people are quickly silenced, put in jail or killed. Look at Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. These regimes are ironclad in their determination to put out any revolutionary light lit. That’s why I consider Tiananmen Square one of the most tragic human rights violations in my generation. They were an Eqyptian uprising, but unlike the Egyptian army, the red army open fired, attacked, killed and silenced. And that’s what is done with these things. But it didn’t happen this way in Egypt. That’s pretty incredible.
To have a revolution with very little blood shed is a phenomenon. Somewhere around 300 people were killed. One life is a huge number, but compared to past revolutions, three hundred is remarkably peaceful. It just doesn’t happen very often. Even with India, and Ghandi’s ahimsa (non-violence) break from Great Britain’s rule, there were rivers of blood shed in the aftermath of their freedom, during partition. With South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, it took decades of beaten and murdered freedom fighters before finally, the people were heard and Mandela became president.
Why? I think the most important factor as to why there was so little blood shed, is that Egypt is a rare jewel of a united nation. From what I have read and heard, Egyptians are foremost “Egyptian”. The country doesn’t seem to have the deep divides as many other regions tend to display. For example, in India the deaths of partition were caused by the hatred between Hindus and Muslims. In South Africa, there were divides between the people of color and the whites (to put it simply). In Iraq, there is a great divide between the Shiites and the Sunni- causing much of their continued bloodshed. Egypt has many religions, but their overall nationality has remained secular. And ironically, I’m sure Mubarak’s secular reign has been a positive influence in this regard, helping to overthrow his regime.
So the Egyptians were able to come together in their common goal of a better life.
Though it seemed like it happened overnight, revolutions are far more complex and ALWAYS organized. There has to be leaders- very intelligent, passionate people consumed with freedom fighting. I read an article about how the revolt started and caught fire, but unfortunately I didn’t take note of it’s source, or I would quote it here. But it talked about meetings, communications, strategy, Facebook, marches, diversion tactics, etc. It was very exciting to read- almost like reading a novel, but all the characters were real and the happy ending wasn’t contrived. But what I took away from the article, was this revolution was organized and social media was the true coup d’estate. A quote from Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who launched the Facebook page said to have sparked the original protest, has been making the rounds online: “If you want to liberate a country, give them the Internet.”
The Eqyptians have remarkably deposed Mubarak, but what will happen now?
Was it good to get rid of Mubarak? Some people would say that he kept Eqypt from turning into an Iraq or Iran. Egypt was the first country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Egypt has backed U.S.-led efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Egypt is supportive of the West’s efforts to stamp out terrorism and curtail Fundamentalist Islam. I say “Egypt”, but I really mean Mubarak’s regime. Mubarak kept the fundamentalist Islamists stamped down. Right before Mubarak resigned, he spoke with Ben-Eliezer (who is a past member of the Israeli cabinet) and this is what Ben-Eliezer says that Mubarak told him:
“He gave me a lesson in democracy and said: ‘We see the democracy the United States spearheaded in Iran and with Hamas, in Gaza, and that’s the fate of the Middle East,'” Ben-Eliezer said.
“‘They may be talking about democracy but they don’t know what they’re talking about and the result will be extremism and radical Islam,'” he quoted Mubarak as saying.
“He contended the snowball (of civil unrest) won’t stop in Egypt and it wouldn’t skip any Arab country in the Middle East and in the Gulf.
Mubarak claims that his dictatorship was necessary to control the radical Islamists/terrorists and the fractious religions of the region. We’ve heard that before: Hussein Insane said the same thing about Iraq.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of an Iran-style Islamist revolution in Egypt should Mubarak’s Muslim Brotherhood rivals eventually take over.
Over in Iran, there was some political manipulation going on: In response to Egypt’s overthrow of Mubarak, Ahmadinejad proclaimed “A new era is dawning, one in which the influence of the U.S. and Israel in the Arab and Muslim world is coming to an end. Despite the evil and complex plots, thanks to the resistance and vigilance of nations, a new Middle East will emerge without the U.S. and Zionist regimes, and there will be no room for the arrogant in the region,” he said.
So Ahmadinejad sees this revolution as secularist Egypt being overturned and Islamic law replacing the old regime. He is using this as a validation for his control, as a sign from Allah.
Will Egypt become another fundamentalist Islamist state?
I personally don’t think so. Mubarak was a despotic leader, but I don’t think he was as merciless and horrible as many of the other ironclad regimes like China, Iran, and North Korea. There was less “total control”, less propaganda and brainwashing, more freedom of information and more diversity of beliefs and religion. As a result, I believe the people of Egypt have a fighting chance to create a true government of the people, a civilian government, not a religious state.
What about the Muslim Brotherhood? Many people are concerned that with Mubarak deposed, the Brotherhood is going to sweep in and take control, similar to the fundamentalist Islamic groups that took control in Iran with their revolution in 1979. The Economist reports that the popularity of The Brotherhood hovers around 20% and has been falling. They believe that Egypt can pull out of this chaos due to their well-educated middle class, a sophisticated elite and a strong sense of national pride. They also point out that Islamists participate in elections in countries such as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia where democracy has taken hold and been maintained. It can be done. They state, “A democratic Egypt could once again be a beacon to the region. It could help answer the conundrum of how to incorporate Islam in Arab democracies. And, though Israel is understandably fearful of the threats on its borders, an Egyptian government that speaks for the people might one day contribute more to a settlement with the Palestinians than an authoritarian’s “cold peace” ever could.”
I like how the Economist sums up the situation:
“Egypt’s upheaval may make Westerners nervous, but when Egyptians demand freedom and self-determination, they are affirming values that the West lives by. There is no guarantee that Egypt’s revolution will turn out for the best. The only certainty is that autocracy leads to upheaval, and the best guarantor of stability is democracy.”
Thirty years ago, when Mubarak came to power, no one knew what the outcome would be. Today we know.
What will the next 30 years bring? I don’t know, but I’ll be watching.
We live far too short, us humans. One life span is too short to gain wisdom.