Lessons from Tahrir Square

For three weeks the whole world watched.

There was angst but mostly there was excitement.  Egyptian youth poured into the streets of Cairo and other major cities in thousands.

We watched them—determined, unafraid, fearless, immortal—all the traits of youth we remember from our own —and all the traits we fear in our children in times of such danger.

The whole world was watching Tahrir Square—Liberation Square, as it translates turned out to be well named. It became the symbolic home of a free Egypt.  A place many Egyptians identified with and it was now occupied by thousands of their children. But they were not being frivolous; their objective was to save their country.  And so they did.

TV cameras were everywhere and the Government was powerless to stop it.  Tweets and Txts and Facebook flash mob use of social media used yet again to outpace the establishment.

Fast, efficient, hopeful, relentless and pulsing with life—the whole world was watching. I’m not talking about the Egyptian Army I am talking about the protestors. The Egyptian Army played its hand well.  It had choices.  It could have followed the usual script of tyrants and turned its guns on the crowd as in Tehran or China before it.

But the young people in Tahrir Square also played their hand well.  They did not incite violent clashes or destroy property.  Some threw rocks, but many shook hands with soldiers and thanked them for standing with the people.  And those soldiers in their tanks were also young as the crowds.  They were part of the crowd but working for the Army.

When the Defense Minister showed up in the Square to talk to the crowd his presence electrified the audience.

Be among us!

Feel our Joy!

We are Free!

Thanks be to God and the Army for standing with us!

If the Army had doubts about the choices it faced that visit to the square and the joyous welcome from the crowd was louder than all Pharaoh’s legions.

In the end, the Army saw its choices boiled down to ousting Mubarak and saving themselves or side with him and ruin everything.  It was an entirely rational choice for everyone involved except the President.

The whole world is watching

Egypt is the biggest domino in the Arab constellation of regimes that could possibly have fallen.  Only Saudi Arabia would be as profound.  This tsunami of protest that started in Tunisia and spread like wild fire was unpredicted and seemed unquenchable.  Dictators suddenly started calling up their opponents offering to talk.  Prime Ministers in several nations were replaced, cabinets sacked, and money transfers out of the country no doubt increased as the protest continued.

In Tehran, always subtle in their respect for opposing views, the mullahs hanged 73 protesters from their own green protests in 2009 after the corrupt election as a reminder that unlike the Egyptian Army the Islamic Republic of Iran would brook no opposition.

The Whole World Is Watching

Reuters carried a story from China Daily newspaper on February 12th calling for stability in Egypt and saying ‘foreigners should keep from intervening.’  China first reaction to Mubarak’s ouster sounded plaintive and fearful.  As I read I could feel the terror in the heart of the Chinese who fear instability more than anything.

“Following this extraordinary development, it is hoped that the Egyptian military, government and its people will make every effort to maintain social stability and restore normal order,” the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.

“Social stability should be of overriding importance. Any political changes will be meaningless if the country falls prey to chaos in the end,” said the paper, China’s official English-language newspaper.

“Given Egypt’s status as a major Arab power of pivotal strategic importance, if the current situation continues to deteriorate, it will not only be nightmarish for the 80 million Egyptians, but also perilous to regional peace and stability.”

One wonders if the Chinese leaders were imagining their own fate.  The revolution that is sweeping the Arab world will not stop there because the factors that are driving it are wound up in the aspirations of the people for freedom, respect for individual liberties and human right, a desire for opportunity, for jobs, for a stable life for themselves and their families.  These are universal values which found expression in tweets, enthusiastic validation by others of like views, and the idealistic and optimistic faith in the future that could be better that often drives youth.  Except these values were shared by their parents, and grandparents too fearful to act now proud of the liberators their children had become.

The lesson from Tahrir Square is that freedom is possible for all by standing up together in liberation square to declare it.  This is what terrifies dictators.  The willingness of the people to stand together and shout:

We are not afraid.

We are free!

Go Out!

Be at peace tonight, Egypt, the whole world is watching.