Monday, February 14, 2011

Freedom for Egypt

Can you feel it, taste it, touch it? Freedom is ethereal, a sense in the spirit, yet there is a hunger for its presence in the human heart. First there were marchers in Tunisia, angry at the unnecessary martyrdom of a young man. The quest for freedom then spread like a desert wind across the nations rimming the Mediterranean. This was so evident in Egypt over the last few weeks as many, young and old, Muslim, Christian, and secular marched to create a democracy. I am certain many of us have held our breath and crossed our fingers as we watched the hopeful marchers and protestors for freedom. As the crowds grew, so did concern for the safety of the marchers.

And suddenly, journalists were getting detained, the internet was disrupted and camel riding thugs started breaking up gatherings. The world watched despite the interference, and still the marchers increased in numbers. The doctors came in and patched the wounded, checkpoints were established to keep the thugs away, and the army stood by. That single factor kept the drive alive and sent a message to the Egyptian leader. Mubarek, (and sorry Mr. Biden -- he was a dictator) seemed distanced from both the situation and his country. Apparently he thought he could brush off the complaints with promises to step down at the end of his term. But the protestors would not be denied and responded with strong negatives and demanded he leave office immediately.

I think our President sent the right message but tried also not to interfere publicly. It appeared that he wanted to come out more strongly on the side of the protestors but was warned off by the State Department and others concerned with the status quo. When Mubarek made his TV announcement that he was not stepping down, when most had been led to expect that he would, the gloves came off and President Obama said that the resignation needed to happen "now". Although several office-seeking Republicans chided him for not jumping in earlier, many others have acknowledged that by keeping on the sidelines, and encouraging, but not meddling, he played the situation from a strong hand.

And -- when Mubarek did step down -- the whole world WAS watching and cheering with the protestors. (Well, almost the whole world was cheering, it has been said that many Middle-Eastern dictators are looking carefully over their shoulders and trying to find appeasing moves to quiet their poverty-stricken multitudes.)

Where do we go from here? The military is apparently in charge and is making moves to govern in an interim until elections can be held -- with luck by September. The country needs to return to commerce, banking, education and international relations. Structures need to be reorganized since parliament and cabinets have been disbanded. Hopefully some of those leaders who have come forward from the ranks of the protestors will be brought in to help the reorganization. They showed themselves to be resourceful organizers, both idealists and pragmatic and incidentally, both male and female educated and effective communicators. The Internet, Twitter and Facebook genies have been unleashed by these young people and they will not be returned to their lamp of restive silence again. The young Google executive who was detained then released was indeed a leader, though he disclaimed the title. He showed courage and resilience as did many of his fellow demonstrators.

None of us knows just what the future will bring for Egypt. We can hope. America can help with NGO assistance and not weapons. A free, educated, employed, fed and informed public is a terrific weapon against extremism. Let's hope that we can help make that happen. Egypt has millions of poor and poorly-educated residents. They were not the numbers in the streets, but to make this revolution meaningful their needs must be addressed. And America needs to understand that this is their revolution and they may make mistakes and may go in directions we would not choose. Democracy is messy; freedom is fanciful at times. We as a country need to step back, just as a parent does when a child rides a bike without training wheels for the first time and be close enough to help if need be.

A cartoon was reprinted in the Saturday Washington Post in which a cartoonist showed a pyramid losing its top of "auto"-cracy but not yet deciding whether to try on the top of "demo"-cracy or "theo"-cracy.

What do you think the future will show for Egypt? I do not see the country becoming a nation such as Iran, dominated by Imams. Few of those were in evidence in the crowds, nor do I see a military martial law in effect long-term. I remain hopeful that parties will form and elections will be held later this year. It is hoped that they will be free and fair without being rigged and a government of sorts will ensue, warts and all, just as we did in our early days as a country. There were those who considered making George Washington a King; thankfully he declined and we formed a more or less imperfect country -- free for some, then and eventually later for the rest of us, but based on the principles of democracy. I heard an Egyptian haltingly say that they wanted: "a government of the people, for the people and by the people" -- now who should argue with that?

Let's hear your thoughts on this most unexpected turn of events.

2 comments:

  1. This is a major change for Egypt, but not unexpected. After Tunisia's uprising and quick change of government, many people thought Egypt would be next.

    I also agree that other countries who have oppressive regimes are scrambling to prevent the same thing happening to them. However, many anticipate Algeria will be next to change. Trouble is, these countries whose dictatorial leaders are being forced out do not have the stable and fundamental, time-tested constitution upon which to build a new government as we have in the U.S. The outcome of government change could be different from what we would expect or hope. Nonetheless, whatever they do, let it be their choice without U.S. intervention.

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