Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt’s Revolution: A victory embodied by the Egyptian spirit

No one expected that peaceful protests and perseverance could topple the third-longest ruler in Egyptian history – but they did, and in less than three weeks.

What’s more, Egyptians won their victory as a people, not as a mass following a leader. Throughout history there have been various peaceful revolutions, but each had a figurehead: Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Gahndi in India, Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Each a worthy cause with a worthy leader.

Many images from the last nineteen days will be recorded in history: Egyptians chanting ‘peaceful, peaceful’ before being attacked by State Security; armored trucks turning water cannons on demonstrators as they prayed; Christian Egyptians surrounding their Muslim brothers, protecting them as they prayed; millions of people gathered in Tahrir – Liberation – Square.

These are the images of a people long known as friendly and hospitable, who have shown the world how deeply the Egyptian spirit runs.

In the early days of the revolution, for every young man who wanted to throw a stone at State Security forces there were five others to stop him. They would not instigate violence, but at a point demonstrators did retaliate: Police shot tear gas at demonstrators. The people kicked it away, threw it back, or tried to put it out. Police threw stones. Demonstrators threw them back. Police shot rubber bullets at demonstrators. Demonstrators set police vans on fire.

Even so, the overwhelming desire among the people was for everything to be peaceful. When State Security withdrew from Cairo on January 28, the people did not chase them out. On the contrary, I witnessed some demonstrators go to them and congratulate them, sharing the victory.

In less than three weeks Egyptians shattered the wall of fear which had kept them silent for decades. The wall had been cracked already, and the foundation was a bit unstable, but until January 25 that wall still stood. On the evening of January 25 I stood in Tahrir Square as tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered there for the first time, giddy with excitement.

I spoke with a lawyer who had helped found the human rights movement in Egypt in the 1970s, and had been part of the student demonstrations in 1973 and 1977. “I was here in Tahrir in 1977 and I was arrested for that demonstration,” he told me. “And now I am here again and I see all these young people, the age of my son and my daughters.” For him, as for many others, it was an emotional moment.

Destroying that ‘culture of fear,’ as I once heard it called, is one of the single most important victories of Egypt’s revolution. Whatever happens next, Egyptians now know that they can go to the streets and demand their rights.

So, what happens next? This is the question both Egyptians and the world have been asking for nineteen days. Hosni Mubarak, against all odds, is gone. What now?

Many have expressed the fear of a power vacuum. The military is in control, but that makes some uneasy. Others fear the Muslim Brotherhood will take over and impose some version of Islamic rule. Some of the fears are valid, some misplaced, but all seem to have overlooked the most important thing Egyptians have taught themselves and the world over the past nineteen days: Egyptians can take care of themselvevs.

Egyptians can take care of themselves. When the police pulled out of the city, Egyptians took it upon themselves to safeguard their homes and their history. They locked arms in front of the Egyptian Museum to protect it, and when thugs broke in from the roof the people quickly arrested them and turned them over to the army.

Within hours of the disappearance of security guards and traffic police, citizens organized road blocks, checkpoints, and neighborhood watch groups – and all without access to the internet or mobile phones.

Committees were organized to clean the streets and pick up garbage. People took it upon themselves to set up makeshift clinics in Tahrir Square and to bring food, water, and blankets to distribute to the people demonstrating there 24 hours a day.

Egypt did not fall into chaos, and did not fall for the rumors the government was trying to spread. In places where there was violence and looting, the people knew it was government-hired thugs and prisoners who mysteriously escaped from prisons who were causing trouble: it was not the people themselves.

The regime tried to force the people to choose between security and liberty and the people, in true Egyptian fashion, made their own option. They chose both. And it will not be quick or easy, but with more of the perseverance and compassion Egyptians have embodied in the last three weeks, they will keep both.


  1. Good Day,

    My name is Ashraf Monzer.

    I am a senior Journalism Student in Lebanon. I am doing my senior about the roll of Social Media in the Arab Spring, and I would like you to fill out a survey if you don't mind?

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    Ashraf Monzer

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