Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Courageous Egyptian people

I spent last week mesmerized by Egypt's extraordinary democratic revolution via CNN, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera (online English version). There were plenty of placards and chants calling for democracy and justice in Egypt – the most popular "Mubarak, Go, Go". But what was missing were the usual Middle Eastern sign or chant of "Death to America!" or "Death to Israel".   

What is most telling is that the demonstrators did not denounce America, although some expressed frustration at the ambiguity of the Obama administration's statement’s about their movement. Friday night, when Mubarak finally resigned, crowds mobbed American reporters in order to tell Americans how happy they were. 

This is an indigenous Egyptian movement. It is about lifting 30 years of political repression and creating economic opportunity for a new generation. America and Israel are the last things on the minds of the young Egyptian revolutionaries. 

Whether the revolution leads quickly to an Egyptian democracy or whether the military form another repressive dictatorship remains to be seen. The next few weeks will tell whether the military and Mubarak's cabinet, which remains, try to maintain complete control of the transition – or whether the opposition, including the newly constituted opposition of young people who organized the street demonstrations, is allowed to share power in the transition and participate in writing a new constitution.

Having tasted the sweetness of freedom for the first time in their lives, the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who turned out in Tahrir Square will probably not accept a military coup with minor reforms. They will insist on a meaningful democratic transition, taking to the streets again if it does not happen.

While the revolution had little to do with America and Israel on the part of the demonstrators, it does not mean it will not have an impact on America and Israel. America will have to re-evaluate its strategy of support for Middle East dictators in exchange for imaginary stability. And Israel should see this as an opportunity to renew a serious commitment to negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians, having seen the power of mass non-violent resistance to bring about fundamental change, would do well to back away from an ideology of armed struggle and take up a strategy of massive non-violent resistance of their own. Peaceful resistance is more likely to force concessions from Israel than rockets and suicide bombs.

"What happened in Egypt in those eighteen days was an inspiring, momentous, authentic and heroic movement to promote democracy. It was a dignified and popular uprising that started with the youth and captured the world’s imagination, and proved that it is possible for the people to overthrow a well-entrenched regime through peaceful means."
~Mohsen Milani 

Congratulations to the courageous Egyptian people for maintaining their resistance in a peaceful manner and achieving the first stage of their democratic revolution.

*Mohsen Milani is professor of politics and chair of the department of Government and International Affairs at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla.