Egyptians relived the momentous times of the Conquest of Makkah 1424 years ago. They remained peaceful in the most trying moments of the test of a century, even when henchmen of a decadent regime teargassed them, batoned them, ran speeding vans over their bodies full of life. Normal human behavior could easily degenerate and erupt into a frenzy of violence and rioting; but not the Egyptians. They maintained their calm. They defied agents provocateur with their steely resolve not to react angrily and destroy themselves and the Egypt for whose honor they had come out in their millions. It was a lesson for the rest of the world. It was a demonstration of true Muslim spirit in the face of an unpredictable scenario that was unfolding second by second.
They were emotional in their chants and slogans, but not sentimental. That fine difference had defined the Egyptian resolve and intelligence of their invisible leaders.
At the conclusion of the first phase of the revolution, Egyptians have actually sent out several messages in different directions.
To Muslims and Arabs, their message is to maintain peace, resolve and determination while confronting their own regime, however brutal they might be and might try to be. Patience and perseverance are the winning cards.
Their second message has gone outs to autocrats around the world: oppression of people does not have a long life. So donâ€™t use force against your own people. You can still retire gracefully and live in dignity of heroes among your compatriots simply by supporting their aspirations. By going against their will, you may be consigned to the dustbin of history. Make your choice now.
Their third message is to the United States and all other members of the western family that are still living in the18th century: the old era ended on February 11, 2011. Proxy regimes cannot be the order of the 21st century.
The fourth message is to Israel: To survive you need to appreciate the ground realities, not depending on geopolitical realities anymore. Myths do not replace legitimacy.
The people of Egypt made a choice. A few hours before the moment of reckoning knocked at the door of Egypt and knocked down Hosni Mubarak, a young Egyptian told an American telejournalist that on Friday millions of them would march up to the Presidential Palace. â€œWeâ€™ve only two choices: freedom or death. Iâ€™m ready to die. But Iâ€™m confident weâ€™ll regain our freedom.â€ President Mubarak also had two similar choices: leave a legacy of love and dignity for himself and Egyptians, or get ousted in ignominy. Unlike his nameless compatriot, Mubarak decided to fall on the wrong foot.
Throughout the mass movement, Mubarakâ€™s responses to his people were provocative. The comparison might not be palatable, but the Egyptian despot was behaving very much like those few Makkah leaders who tried in vain to stop the peaceful march of Muslims to the holy city in the year 8 Hijrah. Barring a few incidence of violence on the part of the entrenched group of Makkans, the Rasool-Allah (s) on his part had even demoted one of his Ansari generals for saying that it was the day of massacre.
That was the day of peace and compassion, he had declared.
Tracing his footsteps, the Egyptians also did not allow death and destruction. Their victory was ensured by determination of the youth and self-confidence of a nation which makes leaders out of masses.
One of many remarkable features of the Egyptian Revolution was that in 18 days not a single effigy of the hated dictator was burnt in Egyptians streets and squares. I do not claim the credit for that, but back in 2007 when the Muslim world was out in the streets demonstrating against the blasphemous Danish cartoons, I wrote in my book on the issue, The Cartoons Cry, that burning effigies was not part of Islamic culture since Muslims believe that burning a human being as a punishment is the sole prerogative of Allah. Egyptians might not have read that book, but by refraining from such abominable practice, they have earned respect of the world.
Nonetheless, Mubarak, whose reign was free of war on the Egyptian soil had resolved to fight his last battle against his own people. His strategy was to provoke the demonstrators in order to justify a brutal crackdown that was already in the script and rehearsed in the first week of the demonstration. On the last day, when protesters reached outside the walls of Mubarakâ€™s hideout, for a moment some protesters got angry and, according to a CNN reporter, the crowd was about to become violent. Just then, he said, a group of people appeared from nowhere, asking the protesters to remain calm and peaceful: Salmiyah! Salmiyah! And the protesters regained their composure.
Who were those men: the invisible leaders of a mass revolt? No one knows for sure. But what everyone is convinced of today is that these invisible leaders had their hands on the pulse of the people, unlike Mubarak.
Mubarak, or any other despots for that matter, was capable to earn a respectable place in history. It is not at all necessary for leaders of nations to invite curse of history. Mubarak had about three decades to become a hero of his nation. He could live the rest of his life as an elder statesman whose advise would be sought on major issues. But his choice was self-destructive. His last desire was either to institute a dynastic rule or destroy the country that had gave him more than he deserved. He tried to be Siad Barre of Egypt. Somaliaâ€™s last dictator had threatened his detractors that his country would be destroyed if he was ousted. Somalia was destroyed because Barre did not allow any leadership to grow under his shadow. Mubarak has also left a vacuum.
Leadership is what the Muslim world is lacking at the moment.
Mubarakâ€™s departure in disrespect reminds of the similar ouster of the shah of Iran also on February 11 in 1979. Like him, Mubarak was far removed from the reality of life of his people. He lived in his ivory tower, surrounded by men who painted rosy pictures in return for lucre. As in the shahâ€™s Iran, those men disappeared in Cairo too as soon as the top chair began cracking. In 1979 the shah was not alone in that position, Mubarak is not alone in 2011. There are many dozens of them in the region. They live in complete isolation because they do not trust the masses they rule.
Brain power and human talent are the most dreaded elements of life for every tyrant. However, a highlight of the Egyptian Revolution is that despots do not necessarily succeed in killing the brains of nations. True, their primary objective is to subjugate intelligentsia, chain human spirit, suppress popular will. They fill prison houses and torture chambers with those who dare to speak up. They destroy human potential of their nations by rendering them helpless and destitute physically and spiritually. This was also the story of Egypt so much so that even an ordinary shopkeeper would not sell his wares without first being â€œthankfulâ€ to Mubarak. Back in 1982 on a visit to Cairo just a week before Eid al-Adha, I was walking on Talat Harb Road a few blocks from the Maidan at-Tahreer. I was amused to find a banner hanging out of a shoe shop announcing: â€œEid Congratulations to President Mubarak â€“ 20 Percent Off On All Shoes!â€
The poor guy was finally booted out.
One cannot believe that a massive revolt could have been organized and kept peaceful for 18 days and night without credible leadership. The revolt was planned perhaps days in advance. One report said that on January 25, about 200 men came out of the Amr Ibn al-Aas Mosque in the Fustat area of Old Cairo and marched up to the Liberation Square. That was the beginning of the revolution.
Some young, apparently apolitical, men like Wael Ghoneim, have appeared in the media and their role in the movement is remarkable, but the question is about political leadership. Reports suggest that all opposition parties joined hands, formed a shadow parliament and a shadow cabinet of ten, both of which were holding regular sessions not very far from the focal point of the revolt. They may emerge into the public view in the coming days and weeks. Their test has not ended yet. They have still to go a long way before their effort come to fruition.
The revolution should open the eyes of Americans as well as Europeans. It could signal the beginning of the end of the American century predicted by none other than Dr. Henry Kissinger in a series of articles back in the 1990s. The United States was not in the â€œdriving seat,â€ to quote James Rubin, who was State Department spokesman in the Clinton administration. It is not in Egypt alone. The minimum the United States has to do is to revolutionize its own Arab-Muslim policy. On February 11, the world has entered a New Era. It has said goodbye to politics of hegemony and exploitation from within and from without.
The change will unfold slowly. World powers did not expect or did not want what has happened in Egypt. US President Obama remained indecisive over the length of the revolution. He was obviously under enormous â€œpeer pressureâ€ that failed him in these defining moments in history. No wonder that after his speech following the departure of Mubarak, at least two young Egyptians in the Liberation Square were not encouraged. One of them told CNNâ€™s Nick Robertson that he failed to understand Obama: sometimes he was supporting the (old regime), sometimes he was backing peopleâ€™s demands. Another youth was rather sarcastic about Obamaâ€™s offer of friendship and assistance to the Egyptians: More than two weeks ago, we started this movement without outside support; weâ€™ll achieve our goals without any outside help.
â€” The author is a former managing editor of the Saudi Gazette, Jeddah.