Seize the day
Gil Scott Heron notwithstanding, it seems nowadays the revolution will be televised, live. That is why I'm glad I learned Arabic and I'm grateful for Al Jazeera for giving me an intensive refresher course. Nothing like understanding the people directly as they express their democratic aspirations in their own language. The wave, as it may be domino effect, of revolts against repressive Arab regimes that began in Tunisia has spread dramatically a month later to Cairo, where I spent two of the most memorable years of my life.
Now, thanks to Al Jazeera, not to mention a plethora of fine photojournalists, I've been following the most exciting events in Egypt since 1952 almost minute-by-minute 24/7, despite attacks on Al Jazeera's Cairo headquarters and arrests of their local representatives. And solidarity has been expressed all over the Arab world and among expatriates in the West and that too has been reported live. This has gotten through loud and clear, despite the regime's shutting down the Internet and most cell phone networks. The channel's primary Arabic broadcasts come through stronger online than Al Jazeera English, or the BBC.
The Egyptians have said it in a least a dozen different ways. Mubarak must go. The people.. desire.. the fall.. of the regime. The people and the army will change the president. Go away, Mubarak.
And then, more wittily, in English: Game over.
Mubarak: a stuffed crocodile of a man with tight matted died hair, an older version of Berlusconi. Much older: is, amazingly, 82. How can he be that old? Tough old reptile, he refuses to move. He appoints a vice president. So what? In the street, Egyptians say they won’t leave till Mubarak is gone.
I once worked within a short distance of Meidan el-Tahrir, and now this sprawling open space named "Liberation" is the central stage of great and thrilling events that seek freedom from three decades of repression. What may become a long, not-so-slow wave of revolts began when a man with a university degree who could not get a job set fire to himself in Sidi Bou Zid,Tunisia after police beat him for selling vegetables in the street to support himself. The sticking point: the Tunisian regime had swallowed up any businesses its kleptocracy wanted, starving the economy and the people. In Egypt the battle was with particularly with that bugaboo of Nasser's time, the Mukhabirat, intelligence, and the Sharta, the police. They had spied upon, wrongly imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and humiliated citizens for decades, and so now it was appropriate that in the streets of Egyptian cities the people should do battle with the Sharta and win. It was, as Al Jazeera's title said, جمعة الغضب/Jum'at-al-ghadb
, “The Friday of Rage.” There were waves of citizens, mostly young but all ages and classes and women as well as men. They stood up to tear gas, rubber bullets and live ones, supplied by the USA. As some of them grew tired they fell back and were replaced by fresh waves. At least a hundred, maybe hundreds, died and a thousand were wounded but their spirit grew stronger by the hour.
Eventually police disappeared, and in following days were replaced by the army, in antique tanks covered with graffiti: Down with Mubarak
. The army is friendly, its spokesman gives a statement declaring the aspirations of the people legitimate. But is this just a tactic of the regime to stall for time? Mubarak has hung on for thirty years; he can hang on for a while longer, waiting for warring political factions among the people to tear each other up and destroy the energy of the revolt. Now, there is a spirit of cooperation. People help each other and tidy up the square. Checkpoints prevent looters. Fifteen-year-olds direct traffic, they say, better than the police did. But problems loom. Roads are cut off, traffic is blocked, food runs short and goes up in price. A general strike is planned. How long can the country be shut down? More than the seven days so far, clearly. Tunisia's went on for weeks.
Ben Ali of Tunisia has fled the country, but the Tunisians don’t have the government they want. What guarantee is there that Egypt will have the government its people want? When has Egypt ever been free and democratic?
However it goes, the moment has been seized and it is a sweet one, a springtime when people are full of defiance and hope. Reporting in tweets from Tahrir Square, the young journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous has declared
this to be a new Egypt, and said that it will never go back to the way it was under Mubarak. All this is a tribute to the spirit and connectedness of the Egyptian people and also one of the most impressive effects of collective power of satellite TV, Facebook, Twitter, the new media that put people in touch and on constant alert.
Whatever the pessimistic views of jaded analysts may be, the media-devouring Arabic-speaking public is filled with excitement and hope by the tumultuous events in Egypt. Today Al Jazeera Arabic online polls asked two questions. First, Do you think the Egyptian people will achieve their demands? Second, Will the Egyptian example spread to other Arab countries? A resounding majority responded نعم/n'am
, yes, to both questions.
January 31, 2011
giving instructions for the "Friday of Rage."
Nagib Shihab al-Din's rousing song
"Ya Masri 'oumi wa shadd al-hayl," Egypt rise and be strong.