The Spirit of the Revolution

Party in Tahrir – courtesy of Lori Fredericks

The spirit of the revolution is alive and well in Tahrir Square. Just as it served as the epicentre for the protests, it could now be considered the largest party venue in the world! Throughout the last 18 days there have been many points that have astounded the international community. The strength of the protest from people known to be relaxed and full of good humor; the non-violence when it would have been so easy to use the strength in numbers and move in a direction of disorder and fighting; the insistence of demands, not settling for less than a reordering of a system; and the community spirit bringing order and safety to communities throughout the city.

Perhaps it is a characteristic of  western values and the tendency to constantly look ahead that hesitates  in allowing Egypt to have ‘their moment’ without warnings – both cautionary and dire. Or an ideology so focused on American interests that it is blind to the interests of others.

It’s almost like a wedding day – when someone says to you “Well you better enjoy today, because things are really going to get hard and marriage is not easy! Oh and by the way, do you know what the divorce rate is?” And you’re left with a sinking feeling as you look at your new husband in his wedding finery and think “I just said ‘I do’ to that?” Suddenly all the joy and celebration of the wedding is tainted  and the hope and vision for your future lives together is slightly clouded. Do we really want to do that to the Partiers in Tahrir?

Where I struggle as I hear the warnings, is the notion underlying some of the admonitions that Egyptians are not as capable as Americans to think, create, and move forward and that sounds like blatant ethnocentrism to me.

I believe the spirit of the revolution in all it’s creativity and strength will continue moving – first with celebration and then with hard work. More than that, in no way do I believe God has removed his Sovereign hand from either Egypt or the United States.

“I’ve been in Tahrir thousands of times. Wish I were there right now to witness the exquisite joy of freedom’s first taste.” Joel Atallah, Egyptian/Canadian

“Highlights of the gigantic party last night: shabaab chanting “WE’RE ALL GOING TO GET MARRIED!”; the dude on the horse dancing in the middle of Qasr el-Aini”. – Annie Gardner

“The people of Egypt have set an example–not only for the region but for the entire world–with their quest for freedom, human rights, and dignity, as well as their commitment to nonviolence. Throughout the 18 days of protest, the world saw clear evidence of the strength of Egyptian civil society and the eagerness of the citizens to take responsibility for their own future.” Hands Along the Nile Development Services, Inc. (HANDS)

“Americans could learn a lot from the respect and tolerance people here are showing to one another, never mind the incredible artistic creativity being displayed by long-suffering Egyptians as they celebrate their freedoms and attempt to tell other Egyptians, and the world … not to turn their backs on them.” Mark LeVine,  professor of history at UC Irvine.

10 thoughts on “The Spirit of the Revolution

  1. Sorry, we pessimists will have our say. The lessons of history on revolutions have not been encouraging. (In reality, I count only three true revolutions – French, Russian, Iranian). The American revolution was not, in fact, a revolution, but a revolt led by a privileged colonial elite. The present Egyptian one is not yet a revolution, although it may yet prove to be one. In the case of the three revolutions that were indisputably revolutionary, the overturning of the status quo was indeed thorough, popular participation was massive, and the revolution was speedily hijacked by the most ideologically cohesive and ruthless leadership. There are few hints that Egypt is going in this direction. Mubarak was, in the end, forced out by the military. If a democratic system follows it will nevertheless hardly be a thorough overturning of the status quo. The military will continue to see itself as guardian of the nation. The most hopeful scenario is probably in the direction of Turkey, which has made the transition, albeit with less dramatic popular participation, from praetorian state to democratic, free-market society, with an increasingly vigorous civil society. That transition turned out to be long and difficult, and is only now bearing significant fruit.

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    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment! Just two points: Transitions may be long and difficult but are they any more difficult than what people have lived with? I don’t know – what I have heard from Egyptians is that they are willing to take that risk. Two – You cite Turkey and that indeed is hopeful but also important in that Turks, themselves, see it as worthwhile – a critical factor in being able to cope with the upheaval that comes during any transition.

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  2. I don’t think it is ethnocentrism, but rather long experience and good sense. Too many democratic movements have been smothered by army-led efforts to re-establish political control or by Islamist religious movements or both. It is essential that this revolution not founder the same way, but be allowed to grow and to take charge. Obama’s speeches have been messages to those in Egypt who might prevent that. Democracy is not an “ethnic” system: it is multicultural. It is also essential to our security that this democratic revolution succeed. To expect the United States to withhold comment and advice is unrealistic. But it wouldn’t hurt at all to emphasize, “Well done, Egypt!”

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    1. Hi David – thanks much for reading and for your comment. I think we lived in the same house in Jacobabad as children! I remember my parents telling me that we had a bathtub because of the Salmons – so thanks! My struggle is two-fold: One is the sense I get,while listening to some analysts, that Egypt is a young child, not able to think or plan. Yet we have seen in the last 18 days not a child, but an adult secure and clear. I think in one of my blog posts I quoted someone as saying it’s like the muzzle Egyptians had on has been taken off and they are finding their voice. The second is what I feel is the moral and human rights piece – something that the US talks about but has unfortunately not walked the talk by supporting a nondemocratic regime that has a significant history of human rights abuses, for the sake of national interests. That being said – I don’t think it’s an issue with easy answers – and we have a reputation in the region of too much interference.
      I guess I just wanted to hear loud and clear the words that you used at the end of the comment – a hearty well done with no buts for the moment at least!

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      1. I’ll have to ask my Mother about that bathtub. In my day, it was the usual tin tub, but I left Jacobabad in 1962. Did you still get your water from a bhishti who delivered it in a 55-gallon-drum donkey-cart? He had started hauling potable water in the usual goat-skin bag, but hard work, speed and reliability had enabled him to buy the donkey and enlarge his deliveries. When his donkey died suddenly and he was reduced to the goatskin bag again, my father loaned him the money for another donkey, repaid one rupee at a time. Of course, we would have been outside his delivery area otherwise.

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  3. I am so glad that the people of Egypt have gotten their wish and now have a chance to decide the fate of the country. Freedom is a hard thing to master though, and like a Jinn escaping from a lamp, sometimes you get exactly what you asked for.

    I am not for a second saying that the people of Egypt are not up to the task. But after decades of de-facto rule by a in a one party state the hard work has only just begun. It will truly take every ounce of passion, intelligence and skill to make the country work.

    We in the west are accustomed to making decisions that affect our daily lives. These transitions may come as a shock to Egypt, and of course the masses may want a return to an easier way of life. Egypt is a proud and educated country though, after the birthing pains of a new state are over I am sure that they will be worthy of the title of a truly democratic and responsible state.

    Well done Egypt, enjoy the fruits of your labour.

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    1. On the contrary, I believe we in the west take a great deal more for granted. Speaking for England – we have a stable monarchy and democracy, an NHS, a benefit system, well-developed human rights, access to everything we could wish for. I’d argue that we are far more sheltered and don’t have to make anywhere near as many decisions – they’re readily made for us.

      We may snipe about our politicians but the gripes we have are vaguely minor compared to places like Egypt. In general we know our politicians will make good decisions, because otherwise they would have to answer. The Egyptians haven’t had that luxury of security and integrity in their government and have already had to live for some time making decisions that we’ve taken for granted.

      I don’t think the transition will come as much of a shock compared to what it would have been if it had happened here.

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      1. Very well spoken Marie. One thing that everyone can agree on I hope, is that times ahead for Egypt will be interesting indeed.

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  4. Marie – thanks for this comment! It has been puzzling and disheartening to have the pessimism thick in some of the air while all reports from on ground are voicing a tremendous optimism. And the idea that the west is more favored with brains and wherewithal. As always thanks for reading!

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  5. You’re not kidding. I felt the same way looking at all the news reports over the last few weeks, none of which seem to have been celebrating Egypt’s bid for democratic freedom. You’ve voiced the feeling which has been troubling me; it is true, there does seem to be a ‘lesser beings who can’t achieve as much as us’ undertone in news reporting.

    The great irony is, the protesters have achieved the greatest victory in their country for 30 years, and they’ve done it together, sensibly without violence, and achieved their aim. Now they’re moving forward as a country. Can we say the same?

    You know what? Good on them. This is their moment and God knows they’ve worked hard for it.

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