How must it feel to be an Egyptian today? How must it feel to do something that no people from your part of the world have ever done — peacefully depose a dictator and take the first cautious steps toward a democracy.
The recent revolution in Tunisia was an inspiration, no doubt, but the people of Egypt did this on their own. They alone deserve our congratulations, our admiration, and — should they ask for it, as President Obama was careful to note in his remarks today — our help. No foreign power took it upon itself to rewrite Egypt’s history. No invading army chased Hosni Mubarak from power. It was the Egyptians themselves.
The revolution was not entirely peaceful, despite how many have characterized it. In the days prior to the breakout of mass protests, at least six Egyptians committed suicide by publicly lighting themselves on fire, just as some Tunisian protestors had done during that country’s popular uprising. Riots and clashes between protestors and police resulted in over 300 deaths, according to Human Rights Watch, with the number of injured perhaps more than 3,000.
Still, the behavior and intentions of the protestors were overwhelmingly non-violent. There were even reports of members of rival factions, pro- and anti-Mubarak groups, coming together to embrace rather than grapple with one another. The people of Egypt have won their freedom not through terrorism but through their determination and tenacity. Mubarak made several attempts to appease the protestors, first by naming a vice president for the first time in his 30-year reign, then by promising not to stand for election in September. “Too little, too late” answered the people who filled the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities and towns all across the country, who continued to insist on Mubarak’s immediate resignation.
When the announcement came today that Mubarak had resigned and turned control of the government over to a council of military leaders, the throng that had gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square every day for the last two-and-a-half weeks erupted into cheers. Many sang their national anthem. Many simply shouted “Egypt is free.” Members of the military dismantled crowd barriers, tearing down the barbed wire that had failed to restrain their fellow Egyptians. Elated protestors hugged smiling soldiers, and swarmed around tanks, cheering and singing. The anchor of Egypt’s state television service read the news of Mubarak’s ouster to the nation with a smile on his face.
Coincidentally, it was on this date in 1979 that followers of Ayatollah Khomeini established an Islamic theocracy in the nation of Iran. That revolution replaced one autocrat — the comparatively modern, pro-western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — with another — this one a medieval religious zealot. The people of Egypt, whose protests have been have been largely secular and explicitly democratic, are looking to do a little better for themselves. It won’t be easy, and plenty can still go wrong, but for now — for today — this is a cause for the whole world to celebrate.