Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why Egypt Matters

image credit: Aljazeera

What is happening in Egypt this week matters, and more than we think. After more than 30 years in office, President Hosni Mubarak has finally agreed not to run again this fall, in response to a quarter million Egyptians demonstrating across Cairo. Last Friday, the government suspended the internet. Read that again, and realize that what you are doing now, no one in Egypt can currently do. Text-messaging was somehow disabled nationally, and the government tried yet again to become its own god.

The anthropologist I work for has a satellite office in Cairo. When I asked her what she thought of the demonstrations, her voice got very quiet and her eyes got wide. "You know, the people created a human chain to protect the Egyptian Museum," she said. "It is one of the most magnificent places in the world."

Perhaps what is so remarkable about the demonstrations in Cairo is that this is one of the first times in history that a national army has backed the citizen protesters. Somehow that changes everything, doesn't it? And yet, when I watched the news tonight, the broadcasters zoomed in on the tanks rolling past the presidential quad as people began to throw rocks. Egyptians have been camping out since last Friday, chanting and singing and speaking out and organizing, with no plans to leave until Mubarak does. These are the moments when you become cognizant of where you are in terms of where the world is, or might be.

Journalists forecast violence if a peaceful transference of power doesn't come by the end of the week, and so now we sit on this precious space of time where a new precedent can be set, where people as a collective unit can rewrite government. I wonder at what point human nature will win over, and something terrible might happen. Against my better judgment I am rooting for something new, something surprising, and something hopeful to happen - and I know I'm not the only one.


Strawberry Girl said...

I didn't know about the human chain. Interesting that some thought of protecting one facet of history while history was being written...

miss J. said...

Pretty amazing. The fear was that the museum might be looted, the way the Baghdad museum was looted a few years back when the American troops failed to protect it. It's another form of inhumanity when art and history are defamed in the name of establishing new order.