It’s the day after. Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak has been toppled by a phenomenal show of people power unprecedented in the Arab world. Just about everyone in the country of all ages and political persuasions is wild with joy.
I feel honoured to have witnessed history first-hand and humbled by the courage of Egyptians who risked their lives for a dream they inherited from their parents and grandparents.
Together with what seemed like the whole of Alexandria, I was on the main corniche after midnight watching clowns on stilts, youths setting off firecrackers and fireworks displays.
Lorries, buses, cars — and even a few Thai tuk tuks — were packed with chanting, flag-waving Alexandrians. As one of the remaining few westerners in town I stood out, yet so many passers-by smiled and shook my hand.
The anti-westerner sentiments shown by some less-informed Egyptians had been calculatedly stirred-up by the regime on state TV to give the impression the revolution had been fomented by foreign satellite channels or by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Mossad, as a prelude to invasion, or even by Hamas or Hezbollah.
The amazing thing is that the Egyptians did it all themselves without any help from outside and without resorting to the use of violence, except when they came under attack from riot police and paid pro-government goons. Each time temperatures began heating up, youth leaders began chanting ‘peaceful, peaceful’.
Peaceful protest was the central core of a revolutionary strategy the April 6 Youth Movement learned from one of the leaders of the Serbian student uprising ‘Resistance’ that triggered the overthrow of Slobadan Milosevic.
The young Google executive Wael Ghonim, who organised the January 25 protest on Facebook, says he is writing a book titled Revolution 2.0. However, the Egyptian formula, premised on the military’s reluctance to fire on the people, might not work elsewhere.
The Egyptian people’s relationship with their military is hard to explain to outsiders. A relative from Wales phoned to say, “I wouldn’t like to look out of my window and see tanks in the street,” and an old friend from London was horrified that Egypt might be facing martial law.
There was no way that I could get it across to them that Egyptian soldiers are universally loved. Encouraging protesters to fraternise with the lower ranks with hugs, flowers and cups of tea and allowing their children to climb up on tanks for photographs was another tactic learned from the Serbian ‘Resistance’.
When Mubarak dug in his heels last Thursday, the anger in Tahrir Square was palpable. Several analysts said that his obstinacy was a deliberate attempt to spark violence so that the military could legitimately move in to protect the nation.
The youth leaders controlled their fury, exercised patience and began building extra latrines in preparation for a very long sit-in until Egypt’s professional syndicates, trade unions and scholars from Al Azhar joined their ranks. That was the tipping point. Mubarak’s last hooray had made things worse for him forcing military head honchos that had protected him for 30 years to respectfully tell him goodbye.
When it comes to values, the demonstrators have stood high above everyone else. US President Barack Obama spent most of his time straddling the fence unwilling to lose a faithful Egyptian ally should things have turned Mubarak’s way and wishing to show solidarity with a fearful Israeli leadership. European Union and United Nations representatives were just as mealy-mouthed.
Watching how satellite networks were angling the news was fascinating. The Iranian channel Press TV characterised the uprising as an Islamic revolution. Fox News’ anchors and guests were scare-mongering about the Muslim Brotherhood, the potential domino effect on the region and Israel’s security, without a thought for the Egyptian people.
CNN was a lot more balanced but, in my view, the most factual English language channel was Qatar’s Al Jazeera International, which was probably why it was ousted from our screens for days.
As Egypt prepares for business as usual — although most revolutionaries intend to return to Tahrir Square each Friday to remind the military of its promises, leaving a small hardcore behind — there are still many unanswered questions.
Will former intelligence chief/vice-president Omar Sulaiman, who said Egyptians aren’t ready for democracy, have a role? Will the hated emergency laws be lifted once and for all? Will the billions stolen from the nation be returned and the thieves tried and punished? Will all political prisoners be freed?
Egyptians must now work to regain their country’s economic confidence to quell capital flight and encourage investors and tourists to come back. With sincere help from the US, Britain and the EU that have proffered assistance that day could come soon.
Egypt’s destiny now lies in the hands of its people. Never again will they allow an authoritarian regime to rob them of their freedom and dignity. They’ve smashed through the fear barrier. Their heads are high and most would prefer death to lowering them again.
The words of a song called The Sound of Freedom by Amr Eid and Hany Adel on Youtube say it all.
“I went to the street and said I’m not coming back.
And I wrote this with my blood in every street.
We made our voice heard to those who did not hear
And all the barriers are now shattered
Our weapon was our dreams...and tomorrow is brighter
We have been waiting for long...we were searching but could not find our places
In every street in my country the sound of freedom is calling.”
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Some of the comments may be considered for publication.