I confess. I’m overwhelmed. In a month of catching up from my trip to Sri Lanka, I’ve witnessed millions of people rise up to overthrow their government, observed revolutions spread like wildfire sparking events as far as Wisconsin, and seen an earthquake and tsunami devastate whole towns. Humanity is experiencing shock, and it’s hard not to feel numb to it all.
So I want to stop for a moment to reflect on how significant the Egyptian revolution is to us. Even as Egypt fades from the headline news, the events continue their twists and turns. It would be a shame if we didn’t draw into ourselves the example that Egypt has provided for us.
If the revolution of Tahrir Square seems hazy to you now, then here is a good re-telling.
To start with, I find myself frustrated with the one-dimensional interpretation of Egypt. Trumpeting social media as the lesson learned from Egypt or fearing the revolution as a threat to US foreign policy doesn’t help us learn from the richness of all that it represents in this moment of history. Every image coming out of the Middle East should serve as a seed of thought that grows our caring and understanding of the world.
Here are a few seeds that sit in my mind:
- The Power of Image to Reveal Injustice: When Khaled Saieed was dragged from an internet cafe and beaten in front of witnesses, the images of his assault spread on the internet to the Egyptian consciousness. This image later became the rallying cry of Wael Ghonim’s (Google VP) Facebook page, “We are all Khaled Saieed”. Images make it hard to deny injustice. Consider that it was the Kodak Camera that made the abuses of King Leopold in the Congo blatantly obvious in the US.
- People Can Self-Organize (duh): In Tahrir Square, protesters with different views organized to arrange their own security detail and cleaning duties. They organized food, water, shelter and wi-fi internet all without a formal bureacracy. In an age where everything is run and organized by institutions it surprises us when people self-organize. Yet, that’s how human beings have done it for millions of years, and we should well remember that in our highly modernized and institutionalized environment.
- People Learn from Example: I think it was Einstein who said, “Learning by example isn’t the best way to learn. It’s the only way to learn.” When you watch a revolution starting in Tunisia, spread to Egypt then to Libya, Jordan and other Middle-Eastern nations, you can’t help but notice how societies learn from the example of others. In this way, social media and the internet allow us to learn from others more easily. The protests and strikes in Wisconsin show that we have as much if not more to learn from them than they do from us.
- The Revolution is Never Done: Despite the inspiring example of they Egyptian revolution, we have to remember that currently the military is still in control. It was because of their restraint that Egypt’s revolution did not turn into what Libya is experiencing now. One has to wonder why the army hasn’t intervened. The army claims that they will release power six months from now, but historically armies have not so easily given up their reins.
- The Power of Delusions: C. C. Colton, an English cleric from the 18th century, said, “Power multiplies flatterers, and flatterers multiply our delusions by hiding us from ourselves.” Mubarak’s 30 years as a dictator had insulated him from the realities of Egyptians on the ground. Like Nixon’s slip of the tongue that “when the president does it, it is not illegal” or Wall Street’s rationalization of fraud, people with power often become enamoured with their greatness to the detriment of all. If this is the case, then it is up to all of us to see reality more clearly and demand it of the institutions we have built.
There is so much more to be said about the history of Egypt and the Middle-East that I do not understand. I hope that you will add your understanding and interpretation of the unfolding events below. Hear from you soon.