Friday, February 11, 2011

Egyptian revolution day 18: Mubarak resigns!

ElBaradei speaks in Tahrir Square
Yesterday was the seventeenth day of the Egyptian revolution, which seems to be called in Egypt "The Youth Revolution of 25 January."  (Al Jazeera Arabic's theme title is simply "A People's Revolution.")  Things kept heating up further, every day becoming more exciting -- and more uncertain. The regime was deeply entrenched but the protesters were  as profoundly inspired.  The number of people in the streets kept growing, with more recruits turning up every day from more levels of society and more walks of life in more cities and at more locations.   In Cairo the pressure points had become not only Tahrir Square, all along the grand stage of the uprising, but also the Parliament, the building that houses state TV, and a presidential palace.  This is in addition to strikers at factories and workplaces throughout the country as involvement of labor grows.  The courage, dedication and spirit of the Egyptian people are incredible and increasingly inspire not just the Arab world but people everywhere.

Mixed messages continued from the top of this stubborn and powerful regime, so long in control, so long heavily supported to the tune of billions annually by the United States.  Early on Thursday the High Council of the Armed Forces, meeting with its commander Hosni Mubarak conspicuously absent, issued a "first communiquĂ©," indicating that it might be threatening to take charge independently, but mentioning no practical steps.  Yesterday the High Council said the demands of protesters would be met in full, without saying how or when.  Today it promised the thirty-year state of emergency laws would be lifted when appropriate and asked the protesters to go home.  But what would it do?  So far, apparently nothing. It was sitting on the fence, but making itself more visible at the top.  The Army can be decisive.  It must choose which way to go, with the regime or with the people.

Late in the evening, long awaited, came a speech from Mubarak broadcast on state television.  It was at once a huge disappointment and a great new motivator to the protesters in the street.    Rumors had said "al-rayyis" would step down.  Instead he only showed the same stubborn, clueless determination to remain in office.  He repeated the regime's accusation that the protesters are inspired by foreigners.  He justified himself, promising those who had killed and injured protesters (the infamous "baltagiyya") would be punished, as if he wasn't himself ultimately behind their violence.  He repeatedly used the word "youth."  But he addressed the "youth" primarily only to ask them to "go home."   He pretended that this was not about him but about the nation.  He implied that he was worthy of our pity:  this mega-billionaire of a police state that routinely rounds up and tortures thousands of its citizens (and does the same job by proxy for the US), 40% of whose citizens live on $2 a day, and 30% of whom are illiterate, wants us to shed tears for him, for all he is going though.  American papers call him "beleaguered."

The result was a roar of disapproval and waving of shoes -- the Arab equivalent of giving the finger -- in Tahrir Square.  This was an enraging frustration but also a great rallying point for the continued public demonstrations of today, which leaders of the uprising dubbed "The Friday of Farewell."  This promises to be a very long goodbye.  

Finally, late on Friday, Mubarak resigned.  Tahrir Square became an endless roar of celebration.  At last!

Now what?

Mohamed ElBaradei lays out his version of "The Next Step for Egypt's Opposition" in an op-ed piece in today's NY Times.   The Parliament must be dissolved and the Constitution abolished, and a provisional constitution set up with a three-man presidential council, including a representative from the military, and a "transitional government of national unity." Then there should be "free and fair" presidential and parliamentary elections within one year.

It is a wise and hopeful proposal.  But nothing is clear yet.  This simply remains a moment to savor.  Tom Friedman of the NY Times writes of a well-dressed Egyptian, who worked in Saudi Arabia, come so the boys could "see, hear, feel and touch Tahrir Square."  "I want it seared in their memory," he declared.  ElBaradei began by saying how in his youth they could speak of their political views only in whispers.  Now they are shouted in all the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Suez, Al Mansoura, day and night.  It will be seared in all our memories.  And for now, that is enough.  This isn't a time to be afraid.  It's a time to be hopeful.  It's a time when the Middle East is being redefined.  And so is the United States.

Steps must be taken quickly, and the time is crucial.  But again, this is a time to enjoy the moment.  The Egyptian people deserve about three days to celebrate.  For them, this is like winning fifty World Cups.

To watch Al Jazeera online:  
Al Jazeera English.
Al Jazeera Arabic.

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