11.2.11

2/11: Never forget.

I honestly didn't know if it could happen in Egypt. Could people overthrow their leader, simply by refusing to be led? As it turns out, yes. What an amazing day.

It may be a historic moment... but is it better? I've talked with some people today who chose not to get too happy until a democratically elected leader is in control and the military is off the streets of Cairo. It's a fair point, but I'm willing to say that this is already the best day Egypt's seen in generations, for the following reasons:

1. It was non-violent. Gandhi used non-violent protests to effect change, but even then there were massacres. The fact that more people haven't died already makes this day even more astounding, and a huge credit to the Egyptian people. But it also means that there are no holdouts, partisans, or defenders - they have no one to defend, and no one to defend against.

Of course, there are a great many people defending their political power and their financial assets, but now they can't do it violently without facing instant condemnation.

2. The army refused to fight its own people. Not even at the beginning of the protest, when they could have squashed it early, kept Mubarak pleased and in power, and claimed to be following orders. Their non-involvement was a huge show of support for the Egyptian people.

(The Egyptian police, I've learned, are very different from the Egyptian army. Had Cairo gone under their control rather than the army's, I wouldn't be very hopeful for the future.)

Also, the United States probably has more clout with the army than they ever did with the actual government. They've propped up dictators before when it served their interest - but right now, the U.S. wants peace in the Middle East, access to oil, and they could probably use a bit more popularity, too. Having the Egyptian military in control for an indefinite period of time doesn't help those goals at all.

But what if some revolutionary takes the reins of power? Someone like Chavez, or Castro? Wouldn't that cause the military to entrench itself? Perhaps, but...

3. There was no face to the opposition. There has been a long history of uprisings that ended in tragedy. In most of those, there was a charismatic warlord, a prophet, an organizer of some sort. Someone who said, "Follow me, trust me, I have the answer." And then, that person ends up incredibly wealthy while everyone else just ends up working harder.

But this time, it was just a great mass of people, putting their voices together. The only thing the Egyptians are asking for is a democracy, and now they have it. There's no one they feel they have to thank, except themselves. So far, this is closer to the French Revolution than the Russian one, but with less bloodshed.

As new governments go, that's a pretty good start.

Now, the lack of personalities could also be interpreted as a sign of trouble, a reflection of the fact that Egypt just doesn't have the political infrastructure to put together a non-Mubarak election. It's true that this does mean it won't be an easy process. But on the other hand, I'd much rather they take a year to develop a political structure, rather than wait a year for Mubarak to do it for them. And speaking of which...

4. After seeing Mubarak's speeches during the protests, and after hearing about the state of Egypt before the protests, I don't know how much worse it could be without him.

Seriously. Literacy rate of 70%? Average annual income of $1,700? 44% of the population classified as "near-poor" or worse? All while Mubarak is estimated to be have $70 billion to his name, not including the net worth of all the members of his party?

Yes, it's a power vacuum. But vacuums that large don't just get filled instantly by the first person to get the previous guy's job.

And finally, there was the rampant corruption and brutality that Egyptians lived under. Truly, they were all Khaled Said... and if they end up with a corrupt president that doesn't jail dissenters and journalists without trial? That's not great, but it would still be an improvement.

5. In Egypt, there aren't any signs of internal conflict. Instead, there are Muslims guarding Christians while they pray, and Christians returning the favour. I don't recall seeing many similar gestures between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq after the Gulf War. No, the stability that Mubarak provided to the west was external stability. From a military perspective, his job was simply not to invade Israel. And quite frankly, you'd have to be bonkers to try invading Israel nowadays.

So there you go. Five reasons why it's not too soon to celebrate February 11 as an Egyptian national holiday. And if you want, I can also provide a sixth:

When someone graduates, you don't say, "I'll be impressed if you get a job." You also don't express doubt about their school's reputation, or their major, or their student loans. Instead, you say, "Congratulations."

6. Congratulations, Egypt.

3 comments:

jherbert said...

Brilliantly stated, my friend. I agree with you 100%. Really, the actions of the Egyptian people throughout this whole affair have reaffirmed a lot of my faith in humanity.

Jonathon Howard said...

I can't say I'm as optimistic as you. After the Egyptians are done celebrating will they realize they are now facilitated a military coup? I hope the military keeps its promises but if history is any indicator they won't.

Your comments RE: the Egyptian Military and the United States also don't seem to make sense. We're Egypt's number one supplier we give billions in arms to them every year. The military is exactly who the U.S. wants in charge if it can get it...

The other problem being of course that it isn't only the Egyptians who are deciding what type of government they want. the US, China, and dozens of other interested, well-funded parties, will be doing everything in their power to insure that whatever government forms that it will be more friendly to their own private interests than to what the Egyptians actually want.

It's a good day for Egypt I just hope they have the foresight, courage, and tenacity to insure that it stays good...

Denton said...

First of all, Jonathon - thanks for commenting. (Thanks to jherbert, too, of course!)

It's true that the current state of Egypt is similar to how it would look if a coup had been staged. But if you're using history as an indicator, then how many coups have there been where the ascendant group never suggested or instigated the coup in the first place? The people have already demonstrated their power - if the military tries to solidify their power, there will be more protests, and the military knows this.

It's also true that the U.S. wants the military in charge. Everyone wants the military in charge right now - the only other immediate options are the old government or anarchy. But I don't think the U.S. wants Egypt's military to remain in charge of Egypt's future indefinitely. Were Egypt to start rattling sabers about invading the Middle East through Israel (again), it would be total chaos. What would make more sense to America is that Egypt simply remains stable and well-defended -- and that outcome is more likely, not less, if a democratically elected leader is in charge.

Or, look at it this way - the U.S. has presumably been happy with Egypt's role in the Middle East for the last 30 years, and that was without having the military in charge. Meanwhile, there are many countries in Africa ruled by generals, who don't receive gifts of firepower from the States. Why would any of that change now?

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.