The people of Egypt have won a great victory. They have defeated a dictator. They have ousted Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak fell at the feet of people power. The Egyptian people showed tremendous courage in their struggle against the dictatorship. They persevered against great odds. Their sacrifice was monumental. According to UN sources, in the course of their 18 day protest against a President who had misruled for most of 30 years, some 300 people died at the hands of hoodlums and thugs serving the Mubarak regime.
While thugs targeted the people, it is remarkable that those who fought for justice, freedom and dignity were largely non-violent. Simply put, it was a peaceful revolution— a revolution that had as its epicentre, Medan Tahrir, Liberation Square. The revolutionaries, as commentators have observed, were civil and courteous.
At the forefront of this revolution were young people, in their twenties and thirties. It was their idealism which was the fuel of this revolution. They utilised the new media to the hilt to mobilise and galvanise the masses.
The Egyptian Revolution was, in a sense, inspired by the Tunisian Revolution of 14th January 2011. Tunisians— again many of them young men and women— showed Egyptians and Arabs throughout West Asia and North Africa (WANA) that when human beings overcome fear, a hope, a distant goal, is suddenly transformed into reality.
Because Egypt is the heart of the Arab world, its Revolution, the Revolution of 11th February, will have a tremendous impact upon ordinary men and women in the region. It will give them strength and confidence. It will empower them. The Egyptian Revolution will become the beacon that inspires the masses to stand up against corrupt, greedy rulers who betray the trust of the people. It will become the banner around which will rally all those who cherish their dignity and independence and refuse to submit to foreign dictation and dominance that has been the curse of WANA. In this regard, the Egyptian Revolution will undoubtedly provide fresh impetus to the noble Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
By a strange coincidence, the Egyptian Revolution happened on the same day as Iran’s Islamic Revolution. It was on the 11th of February 1979 that the Islamic revolutionaries in Iran proclaimed victory after the military declared its neutrality and the revolutionaries took over public buildings and the Iranian State Radio and Television. 11th February is celebrated as a national holiday in Iran.
The powers-that-be in Tel Aviv, Washington, London, Paris and other Western capitals would not like to be reminded of this historical coincidence. It is a coincidence that will also send a shiver down the spine of many a monarch and president in the Arab world. More than this coincidence, both Revolutions succeeded in harnessing the energies of millions of people in their respective countries. The Egyptian and Iranian Revolutions — some would argue—are the two most broad-based revolutions in human history.
At a great historical moment like this (I am writing this article a couple of hours after Vice-President Omar Sulaiman’s announcement over Egyptian Television that Mubarak is stepping down) we should recall the other illustrious revolutions in history— the French Revolution of 1789; the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and the Chinese Revolution of 1949. There have also been people’s movements in recent decades that have succeeded in overthrowing dictatorial regimes that had lost credibility with the people. The people power movement in the Philippines in 1986 and the mass movement against the Indonesian President Suharto in 1998 would be two examples from Southeast Asia while the series of uprisings in Eastern Europe in 1989 would also testify to the power embodied in the people.
Revolutions and popular uprisings, however idealistic and altruistic its leaders and participants may be in the initial stages, do not always deliver on the freedom and justice they promise. There are many revolutions that have betrayed the people. We do not know how the Egyptian Revolution will unfold in the coming days and months.
But for the time being, the people of Egypt, and indeed the people of the world, have every right and reason to celebrate. We have just witnessed the liberation of the soul of a nation. We have just embraced the triumph of human dignity.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia.
12 February 2011