I watched a FrontLine show last night about the revolution in Egypt and I must say that I simply had tears in my eyes. I don't know exactly why I got choked up watching it, but I just thought that what the youth of that country did was so incredibly amazing. It spoke to the power of educated and connected youth and it spoke to the power of non-violent protests. The episode is online now at PBS and at Vimeo. The PBS link also contains a separate, but related episode about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
A number of things surprised me about the sequence of events. First, this wasn't really a spontaneous thing. It started more than two years ago with a youth movement (they call themselves the April 6th Youth Movement named after their first protest) that started studying how to do non-violent protests. They even traveled to other countries to talk to people who had successfully staged non-violent protests (with results) in other countries. They were completely committed to non-violent protest and believed that their efforts could only make progress if they stayed non-violent and gave neither the police force or the military any valid reasons to use violence against them.
Second, the protest was completely secular. It was completely about freedom and not at all about muslim beliefs. The organizers of the early protests even talk on camera about how proud they are that in Tahrir Square (the center of the protests), there was not one muslim symbol displayed. This was entirely about Egypt, it's people and their freedoms. While the Muslim Brotherhood was tangentially involved and certainly has a religious objective, the youth movement referred to them as the "old way" and not what this movement was about.
Third, the leaders of this revolution were entirely young people. I don't know their ages, but they look to all be in their 20's. Certainly young and old came out in support of the protest, but this was not led by an existing opposition party or group in any way.
Fourth, the internet played an enormously central role at many levels. It's my opinion (the story didn't really talk about this) that because the youth were so connected on the internet and were educated, they knew what it was like in other countries. They knew that other countries didn't have a brutal police force that beat and tortured people. They knew that other countries had much more successful economies. They knew that other people had successfully risen up in a non-violent way and caused real change to happen. And, of course, they knew that they could communicate with millions of people on Twitter and Facebook. They used a public Facebook group for much of their communication. At one point early in the revolution, several of the youth group members are arrested by the police, beaten and tortured and asked to provide the password to the Facebook page so they can see what's on it. They are asked lots of questions about their "friends" on Facebook. Because the page was public, there was no password needed to read it (they eventually made up a password and gave that to the police to satisfy them) and the police wouldn't accept that these "friends" on Facebook were people they had never met. The police just had absolutely no idea what Facebook was or how it worked. It's almost laughable how little they understood.
And, of course, they watched and saw what happened in Tunisia weeks earlier on the internet as the non-violent protests there forced out the president after 23 years of rule.
Obviously, we're now seeing protests spawning in so many other Arab countries: Libya, Jordan, Iran, Bahrain, etc... They aren't all going to follow the same path that things did in Egypt. Things went quickly in Egypt because the military sided with the people from the beginning and eventually the government (and Mubarak more specifically) realized that he couldn't fight millions of people with just his police force. But even in Libya where Gaddafi has pledged to use all means to put down the rebellion, there are big cracks in the government there. The interior minister has resigned from the government and sided with the people. Parts of the military have refused to fire on the people. Several planes in the Air Force have defected or crashed on purpose to avoid attacking the people and parts of the country are already not under Gaddafi's control.
Certainly, it remains to be seen how much real change happens in all these countries and, if it's like most things, it will take years to really see the final outcome, but wow these are some giant first steps. Already the government in Bahrain is talking about making significant changes. There's talk about the same in Jordan.
I think what gives me such great hope is that education and the internet are making the youth of the world savvy enough that they now realize that they don't have to put up with the state of affairs in their country and they can change things. They want a say. They want democracy. While democracy may have been presented to the people of this world for years as a "western" thing that was associated with some western countries that had so successfully been depicted as evil (largely the U.S.), now it's what the people of Egypt want. They want a say. They want real free elections. They want a new constitution. Wow. Suddenly, it seems to me like there's such new hope for not only this region of the world, but perhaps even other regions of the world that are ruled by brutal dictators.
Perhaps what got me teary eyed is that this isn't just something happening in Egypt. This is happening in many other places and it gives me so much hope that the educated and connected youth of the world are going to lead the world to a much better state than it's in now. Certainly the change will happen at different rates in different parts of the world and certainly there will be some dictators that find ways to maintain control for a long time, but it now seems like we know what direction it's going and it's just a matter of how long it takes for each repressed country to get there. How exciting.