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 by the thousands. We watched them as if they were on spring break. Unafraid, determined, fearless, immortal—all the traits of youth we most admire from our own youthful experiences —and all the traits we most fear in our children in times of such potential danger.
The whole world was watching Tahrir Square—Liberation Square, as it translates turned out o 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 partying like it was spring break. But it was not spring break and 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 were used yet again to outpace the establishment.
Fast, efficient, hopeful, relentless and pulsing with life—the whole world was watching.
No, 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 Tehran had done. But the young people in Tahrir Square also played their hand well. They did not incite violent clashes or destroy property. They 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 hauled out 73 protesters from their own green protests in 2009 after the corrupt election and hanged them 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!
While the whole world is watching.
As the events swirl barely under control in Egypt there is both excitement and danger for all involved. We hope for the best for the Egyptian people but we fear the worst in another out of control Islamic state bent on mischief and mayhem in the name of Allah.
The danger for Egyptians is that there is not much of a foundation for true democratic government after a half century of military rule after Nasser and the Colonels overthrew the monarchy. But what started in Tunisia is spreading to Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan and the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Syria are hiding out and Iran is both thrilled and terrified.
The best outcome is that the demand for freedom, the rule of law and fair, democratic elections will be realized and the people will act responsibly not tolerating a new batch of dictators to replace the ones run out. We recognize it is asking a lot, but we must pray for Egypt and for its best interests.
Change is coming to the Middle East. Why the world’s best intelligence services did not see it coming is a good question President Obama and other leaders should be asking. The president missed his golden opportunity to stand up and support the people of Iran as they demonstrated in the streets and he seems to have learned from that mistake by his steady pressure for change in Egypt. Keep it up. The longer Mubarak hangs on the more trouble it causes without changing the outcome—his time is over.
But it is not Egypt where the battle for the Middle East will be fought—it’s Lebanon. and now is the time to serve notice that Hezbollah will not be permitted to take over Lebanon nor deny the Levant its freedom while the rest of the Middle East celebrates.
And so in this time of danger there is also opportunity. Syrian also has a choice to make Iran and Hezbollah or the rest of the world. And if we are lucky surrounded by democracy unwilling to be returned to bondage.
America has depended upon dictators to keep the lid on Islamic radicals and Palestinian terrorists, but sometimes at the expense of our real strategic values and interest. But if we believe in redemption we will stand up for the legitimate democratic aspirations of the people of the Middle East and offer our help anyway we can. But we must also say this honestly and clearly—and mean it.
America strategic interest is in a secure, free and responsible Middle East that participates fully in the world community of nations. Nations that respect their neighbors, respect their people and act honorably will be embraced and supported. But just as we did not tolerate threats to our strategic interests and our allies in the region from the old dictators we will not tolerate them from new regimes either.
As for Iran the message is clear—your time is running out and the whole world is watching the legitimate democratic aspirations of your neighbors emerging from bondage and fear. Be afraid, be very afraid—everywhere you look the people of Iran are wearing green and they too will not be denied.