There have been all kinds of euphemisms employed over the past two weeks to describe the activity in the central square of Cairo and in the other cities of Egypt. But the reality has pushed through those euphemisms: what is happening is a revolution. The people of Egypt have lived under the organized dictatorship of President Mubarak for thirty years, suffering poverty, lack of proper resources for living, and the suppression of truth and freedom. For the most part they have been passive. But over the past 18 days the people of Egypt, led by young people with an energized passion, have demonstrated a new resolve.
Now that President Mubarak has resigned and the government of Egypt is in flux, the hard part begins. The result of the revolution is opportunity. The people of Egypt have the opportunity to bring into existence a government that responds to their dreams. Those of us who think optimistically about democracy have the ability to envision a government which is “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
The reality we face is that the product of the Egyptian Revolution is less likely to resemble our western vision of an established democracy. There will be threads of it interwoven with cultural, religious, and economic realities which are vastly divergent from our own. The tendency may be to bemoan the differences. What will be more fortunate will be our ability to accept the differences and celebrate them with the Egyptian people.
This revolution affects the United States, but it is not about the United States.
There is much we are able to offer the Egyptian people as they struggle with their newly-realized freedom. But it will be important not to foist our expectations upon Egypt and undermine their ability to shape their own democracy.
The Egyptian people are intelligent and well educated. Much of their education has been in the United States and in western nations. There is an intellectual segment of their population which is capable of “thinking outside the box” because they have been taught in systems which embrace that kind of thinking. In a sense, they have a unique opportunity to design and establish a government which is better suited to the 21st century than those we have inherited from prior centuries.
The role of social media in the lives of young Egyptians is beyond measurement. Some have said that it has been the glue of the revolution. The ability of young Egyptians to mold and shape a government which utilizes 21st century technology is a gift. It is also a feature which establishes Egypt as a nation in the midst of a global economy, an international intelligence, a civilization without borders.
While there is much to celebrate in Cairo and the cities and villages of Egypt, there is a balancing characteristic of anxiety as a leaderless nation struggles to overcome its poverty, unemployment, and sometimes contentious religious partisanship and to shape it into a collaborative form of governance. It is too early to hang the “Mission Completed” banner. The struggle for peace and success has just begun.
Illustration Credit: LeanneGraeff