I haven’t been reading much for the last two weeks because I’ve been absolutely riveted by events in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. I am glued to Twitter and Al Jazeera day and night, with few interruptions. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or watch Fox “News”) you know that we are witnessing an extraordinary transformation, not just because of where it is but how it’s happening. We usually think of revolutionaries as men with guns and grenades but these are kids with laptops and smart phones. With the media under state control, opposition parties banned, and even leafleting illegal, the web is the only place Egyptians can organize, and organize they did.
What I find most heartening about this revolution is the hope, love, and joy of the protesters. Tahrir Square in particular is not marked simply by the absence of violence but the presence of joy. Yes there are angry shouts against the Mubarak regime, but there is also a festival atmosphere, complete with music, dancing, and food. When they were being attacked by hired police thugs, they defended themselves with incredible resourcefulness, using whatever they could find in the square. Doctors volunteered to tend the wounded and people smuggled in medical supplies. During times of calm people share food, water, blankets, and there is even a barber working for free. Art is being created right on the street, songs are sung, the dead are remembered, and there has even been one honeymoon and one wedding there. There are people of all ages, from babies to elders, students and professors, workers and professionals, celebrities and civil servants, feminists and niqabis, disabled people, Muslims, Christians, and atheists, you name it, they are there, and they are getting along just fine without police and without the government. It is almost a whole functioning society on its own. It is the new democratic Egypt, and it is spreading outward every day.
The Egyptian revolutionaries are putting us apathetic Westerners to shame. We’ve been standing idly by as banks rob us blind and corporations ship jobs and profits offshore, but the Egyptians are doing something about it. Make no mistake: this is ultimately about money. President Mubarak and his cronies are fabulously wealthy while many Egyptians struggle just to buy bread. This has only gotten worse since reforms to “liberalize trade” were undertaken. His own family fortune is estimated at up to $70 billion (with a B) dollars. He is not violently repressing his people for the fun of it, he’s doing it to maintain his power to maintain his wealth. If you don’t believe that this is about money, check out this short but incisive analysis of the situation as it stood last week:
What Mubarak is about to find out (aside from the fact that you can’t keep good people down) is that you can’t take it with you. It has been reported that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last summer and probably does not have long to live. When he announced that he wouldn’t run in the next election it wasn’t out of the goodness of his heart, it’s because he’ll probably be laid out in his lavish marble mausoleum by then. So it’s no wonder he’s holding on to power like grim death. He wants to be sent off like a pharaoh, with parades and monuments (and human sacrifice), not in ignominious exile. It remains to be seen which it will be. But the way things are now, with the protests getting stronger and broader every day, the best case scenario for him is looped panegyrics on state TV and a graveside honour guard. Unless he goes soon, he may not even get that much. If I were advising him I would suggest a memorial obelisk instead of a traditional Islamic grave marker—obelisks are harder to dance on.
How it started: We are all Khaled Said.
Even Noam Chomsky is amazed.
NEW: Why Mubarak is Out—On the competing economic forces in Egypt.