Friday, February 11, 2011

Victory of the People

Cairo's Tahrir Square 2/11/11 via CNN
It's New Year's Eve, the Fourth of July, Armistice Day, and Woodstock all rolled into one in the streets of Cairo. "The criminal has left the palace."

We thought it would happen last night, but Mubarak just couldn't bring himself to "surrender to a bunch of riffraff," as he was quoted. We watched Mubarak's lame speech last night; we sympathized with the protesters' outrage. We were concerned what might happen today. Would a guillotine be set up in Tahrir Square? Would the tanks roll?

So, what a nice surprise to hear my car radio announce that the dictator retired to his resort in Sharm el-Sheikh today! I passed the news to a friend in the Post Office parking lot: "I heard it on NPR!"  Tahrir Square, instead of running with blood, erupted with joy.

We'd grown increasingly impressed by the Egyptian people, whose revolution began on Facebook. It started Jan. 25th as a riot, with tear gas. Then came the chaos and the looting; the museum's priceless treasures being ripped off. "Pro-Mubarak forces" charged into the crowds on horseback and camelback. We dreaded a bloody suppression.

But then things changed. The Army refused to fire on the Egyptian people. (I heard at one point they were ordered to but refused.) At the same time bands of citizens got together to defend their homes and neighborhoods. The museum also got guards of citizens, and some treasures were returned.  Interviews came in from people on the street: "We want to choose our own government." "We're not leaving until Mubarek's gone." Respect for Egyptians spread around the world as we saw and heard people who were both yearning and determined.

But then international journalists began being taken into custody! And the unintended consequence of that, from the dictator's point of view, was the ability to report first-hand the brown leather walls, the screams of tortured Egyptians piercing through them. If a reporter had requested to visit on a press pass, they would have been excluded!

Arresting the journalists was another of Mubarek's countermoves that backfired, and his concessions came too late. He's toast; the Swiss are freezing his family's bank accounts.

Tomorrow we will worry about what comes next. But today watching people who wanted to be free shouting, "Egypt is free! Egypt is free!"  I think we can enjoy and enjoy an interlude of amazed jubilation.


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