Sunday, February 13, 2011

Let my people go!

Egypt has been the topic of interest in the news for the past three weeks and I'm not certain if the actions of the Egyptian people should be classified as a revolution or a crisis or perhaps even a coup d'├ętat. That, however, is not the topic of this particular post.

The focus of this post is to examine the unity and power displayed by the Egyptian people. They accomplished in less than three weeks what many peoples across the world have not been able to do in a lifetime.

How could a simple group of average men and women topple a dictatorial leader that had ruled practically unchallenged for nearly 30 years? Simple. The people of Egypt did it together. They cast aside political, religious and class differences -- those which divide people the most.

Hosni Mubarak had ruled Egypt unchallenged since the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. The turmoil that led to Sadat's assassination prompted Mubarak to rule under "emergency powers" that were never relinquished. In using broad dictatorial powers, Mubarak took away a number of freedoms from the people of Egypt.

Egypt has three state run newspapers and a state television station, all which have been subject to censorship. Demonstrations against the government were forbidden, as were most political gatherings that did not have the approval of Mubarak's government.

Elections took place but were typically rigged to allow a pre-determined outcome. Mubarak would periodically be up for a referendum vote to renew his presidency, which always showed numbers overwhelmingly in his favor.

Activists against Mubarak's regime were often imprisoned indefinitely without conviction in a court of law and hidden in detention facilities unknown to the public. Thousands of political prisoners are believed to be tucked away somewhere in Egypt and hundreds of torture cases have been documented. Police had been so bold as to ruthlessly beat people in the streets.

The most frustrating part of this for Egyptians was the idea that Mubarak had done all this legally through the nation's laws about emergency powers.

Mubarak might as well been called pharaoh. 

Toward the end of January, though, the Egyptians banded together and forced Mubarak out thanks to a coordinated effort amongst the people. The Egyptian Revolution is a fantastic reminder that a group of people can only be pushed so far. Once people believe they have nothing left to lose, action is bound to result. High levels of unemployment (particularly among the bulging youth) and an average wage of $2 per day have plagued Egypt (no pun intended). The government oppression, coupled with economic troubles, pushed Egyptians over the line.

Thanks to the advent of social media websites such as Facebook, Egyptians were able to plan coordinated protests in multiple major cities. On January 25th, protestors took to the streets and overwhelmed police forces. One of the most amazing parts of the revolution was its transcendence of cultural and socioeconomic classes. All classes of people were represented in the protests.

Religious differences were tossed aside as well. I was fascinated by the sight of ardent followers of the Islamic faith and Coptic Christians working together to secure a better future for their nation. Members of both faiths stood circled around the others to allow them time to worship in their own respective ways without interruption from police authorities. Where else in the world can such a boast be made?

Individual political groups forged into an unlikely alliance to stand against Mubarak as well. The Youth for Justice and Freedom, the Popular Democratic Movement for Change, and the National Association for Change were all movements who united for a common cause along with traditional parties such Ghad , Karama, Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Democratic Front.

Imagine what can be accomplished for the betterment of mankind if we all followed the example of Egypt and focused on our commonalities and working together instead of allowing divisiveness to permeate.

I don't know if the cooperative efforts of Egyptians will keep hold now that Mubarak has resigned and the military has taken temporary control of the government. But the world has seen that cooperation drew millions of people in constant protest for nearly three weeks. Hopefully the world will see a reverse Domino Theory take root -- where one nation will fall to democracy and ignite a chain reaction seen in Tunisia, the Sudan, Iran, North Korea, China ...

To be fair, it should be noted that the recipe for change includes more than cooperation. People in Egypt were desperate for change. They were hungry. Figuratively and literally. Americans seem to have lost that feeling of having to want for something and we definitely do not have the sense cooperation needed to overcome our problems.

Not every nation needs a revolution but we could all stand to learn from this particular crisis. The people of Egypt saw a need for genuine change and took a stand for what was right. The protestors didn't ask for much. Their demands consisted of a higher minimum wage, an end to he emergency law, and Mubarak's resignation. This wasn't a play for power or money, but a move for the good of Egyptians.

It wasn't easy and it took more courage and fortitude than most of us have had to display. But having a little trust and cooperation among different groups of people paid off.

My advice for the United States and the rest of the world? Simple: walk like an Egyptian.

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