Friday, February 11, 2011

Drinking From The Nile

I hope everyone pauses to drink from the watershed moments of today, last week, last month, last year, and when we were young.

Strangers are hugging each other in Tahrir Square. About four hours ago, young people toppled a modern pharoah, and jubilation has swept through the Egyptian night. As I type, I'm hearing a live feed from Cairo, and after each sentence, I click back to live pictures of the people dancing on the bridges.

Power changed hands via grenades and assault rifles in Egypt last time, in a brazen daytime attack that left a dozen people dead, including President Anwar el-Sadat, who had made peace with Israel and paid for it with his life. Reportedly, only one major Arab leader attended his funeral.

This time, however, it was an unarmed revolution of millions. The protesters not only multiplied in a response to a series of disingenous, smokescreen concessions, but also simply held their ground--peacefully--and settled for no less than their president's resignation. Defiant of the "father," the sons and daughters took care of their own, as neighborhood patrols sprung up around Cairo and Alexandria to provide ad hoc security when this police state found itself suddenly police-less.

Further upstream, in Sudan, a historic, nearly unanimous, transparent vote by the citizens of the South has carved a non-violent road through a new republic, the latest healing step of a region shredded by horrific civil war. Even the poorest, most downtrodden people can show an entire planet what dignity truly looks like. Holding their heads high, they now add to their list of daily chores the writing of a constitution and the choosing of a national anthem.

And this may not be the end, as the waters of protest slosh over the sides of the Middle East bathtub... Tunisia overthrew its oppressive regime just a few weeks ago, which contributed to the cresting unrest in Egypt. Citizens in Yemen, Algeria and Jordan have also recently stood up for themselves in demonstrations against autocratic regimes. One can only imagine what Mubarak's resignation will mean for disenfranchised people across the region.

One would also hope that Al Jazeera's reputation as an objective news source has been greatly solidified as a by-product of these events. The more legitimate its position in the Western mind---the more we see our brothers and sisters afar as fellow humans with the same wants and needs as ourselves--the less power will be available for siphoning by the nihilistic agendas of Beck, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, who all owe more to Joseph Goebbels for their playbooks and their craven enrichment than to the institutions they claim to support.

These developments come at a human cost, of course, too. Hundreds of Egyptians have been killed or tortured, A renegade general in South Sudan launched attacks this week--since quelled--that shattered a tenous peace and left some 150 dead, many of them villagers caught in the crossfire. Day-to-day life in Tunisia is still volatile and a new government is long from sorted out. There is also the difficult subject of sacrifices made by people who have gone so far as set themselves on fire--first in Tunisia and then in duplicate in Egypt and Alergia--a shocking kind of reverse suicide bombing in which the taking of life as a political act is limited to their own. Unilaterally harming oneself in various ways has long been a form of protest. Gandhi himself participated in many hunger strikes during the British Raj, to great effect, although this writer would guess that the Mahatma was less than comfortable with the act of dousing oneself in gasoline and self-immolating... Admittedly, I am no scholar on the subject but found some interesting reading here

In the end, however, today is not a day for debate. It is clear that Freedom has been flowing upstream in the Middle East, and when water meets mountains, mountains eventually dissolve. We might all dance tonight with strangers. We might all plunge into the waters of celebration. We might all pause and hug our children, telling them that on the other side of the globe, a nation has shown the world a strength only achievable through peace. Gotta go.. our president is on the telly, quoting King.