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Last Updated: 02/01/2011
Egypt: History in the Making
Amr Abdallah

Dr Amr Abdallah reflects on the ongoing social and political changes in Egypt, noting the remarkably peaceful and democratic nature of the protests, even in the face of police brutality and opportunistic looters, and the real changes these events represent for mainstream media and authoritarian politicians in the country and across the region.

A few weeks ago, an Arab friend told me this joke:

President Mubarak’s advisors proposed to him a new project that would bring millions of dollars to Egypt every year. They explained that they conducted a careful assessment of holding the annual Islamic pilgrimage (Haj) in Cairo instead of Mecca. He was surprised, but they assured him that they planned everything. He inquired: “where can accommodate millions of pilgrimages in one place to perform the Haj rituals?” They confidently answered: “In Tahrir Square, Sir!” They explained that they measured it carefully and found that millions can be there at the same time, and that they can use the round garden in the middle for people to circle around it as they do around the Kaaba in Mecca. “Well,” he continued to inquire, “what about the ritual of walking seven times between the Safa and Marwa hills?” Again, confidently they explained that the Kasr el Niel bridge was measured, and it is about the same distance as that between the Safa and Marwa hills, and with minor reconstruction it will work very well. “OK, so what about the ritual of throwing pebbles at the Devil column in Menna outside of Mecca?” he asked. They said, “Sir, this is when we will need your help by standing for a couple of days until people finish throwing the pebbles at you!”

Well, the events of the last few days in Tahrir Square, and the Million Person March of Tuesday 1st of February, with the images of millions holding the daily group prayers (like they do in Mecca), while chanting for the removal of Mubarak, all seemed to turn that joke into a prophecy.

Indeed, this is a true revolution conducted with the utmost adherence to principles and practices of nonviolence. As an Egyptian, I cannot describe the emotions and feelings that have engulfed me since the Tuesday demonstrations. I must admit that my people, the young people that is, surprised all of us. Their determination, sophistication, sense of civic responsibility, and graciousness characterized this revolution from the beginning. The chants “Selmiya, Selmiya” (peaceful, peaceful) were emphasized continuously especially when they needed to restrain the emotions of their compatriots. The scene of demonstrators performing the afternoon group prayer in front of police cars aggressively hosing them with water will be a portrayal of nonviolent resistance for years to come. The looting, and the disappearance of police forces from the streets on Friday night, triggered a swift massive formation of neighborhood watches by citizens throughout Egypt.

I was lucky to have planned a visit to Egypt (combination of work and family time) from 24-30 January. I was there for the first week of this revolution, and I cannot imagine how it would have been if I were not with my people in my country during such days. And while I am so proud of my people, especially the young ones, I have become confident that we deserved a better government, a much better one. The government reactions to the protests all reflected a sense of absolute and arrogant power that can decide whatever it pleases, anytime, and with zero regard to the impact of their actions on people- all people not only the protestors. For example, they shut down internet since Thursday 27 January until now, and shut down mobile phone communication for three days. They shut down train service to Cairo on the day of the Million Person March. No regard to people or their needs; the only regard they have is for the regime. They deserve to go, and they deserved to go for sometime.

It is important to realize that the motivation of this revolution is not necessarily economic as it may appear given the poverty and hardship that many Egyptians suffer from. The motivation for this revolution relates more directly to the political manipulation and vicious election rigging by President Mubarak, his son, their entourage, and the National Party. Police brutality and unlawful detention and imprisonment of political dissidents is definitely another factor. It is beyond my comprehension that Mubarak at one point decided to become president for life, and has been working hard to groom his son to succeed him. I have known all the way that the Egyptian people would not let this happen. And they proved me right on this one.

This is a revolution about democracy, sparked by the revolution of our brothers and sisters in Tunisia. And the spark, now a flame, will reach many more Arab countries. We all cannot wait to see where the next revolution will take place in the Arab World. But for sure it is coming.

Finally, a word about media. Egyptian official media, and CNN: Shame on You! Your unethical handling of the revolution, your acting as parrots and puppets of the Egyptian and US governments was exposed by the Aljazeera coverage. It was amazing to switch stations between the three media sources, and see how some media continues to be manipulated and controlled. I feel that some Egyptian journalists and TV personalities are as guilty of tyranny as those in the political regime. But the day of reckoning is coming fast to all of them.

It is now about 11 pm on Tuesday 1st of February. After massive demonstrations by millions allover Egypt, we are now waiting for a speech by President Mubarak. Will he finally step down, and succumb to the people’s demands? Well, he will do it right now, or will be made to do it very soon. History has reached a milestone, and there is no return.

God bless Egypt, the people of Egypt, and our young generation with their Facebook and twitters!!

In peace and justice and freedom,


Amr Abdallah, PhD., is Vice Rector of the University for Peace. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the official position of the University for Peace.