Egypt’s uprising redefines what’s possible in Arab world

Saturday, February 12, 2011

WASHINGTON - The success of the revolution in Egypt that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign has riveted people’s attention across the Middle East. From Tehran to Damascus to Rabat, people were glued to their television sets to watch the spectacle that seemed impossible barely weeks ago.

For Arabs used to a heavy hand and little hope, Egypt’s revolution has redefined the possible, before their very eyes, says the Christian Science Monitor.

The collapse in Egypt took just 18 days of bold protests, inspired by the overthrow of Tunisia’s long-standing strongman just weeks before.

Everyone is watching this - hundreds of millions of Arabs, Muslims, and who knows who else, says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre, speaking from Cairo.

The Arab world is never going to go back to what it was. We are going to wake up to a new Egypt tomorrow, and we’ll also wake up to a new Arab world, says Hamid.

What has changed is that Arabs know that they can change their own situation without the help of the US, without the help of the international community, they can just go out on the streets and do it on their own - and no one can take that away from them, he says.

Across the region, Arabs have watched transformative events unfold day after day, first in Tunisia where a single self-immolation in protest in mid-December sparked weeks of demonstrations and finally regime change.

Then Egyptians began gathering strength on the streets, battled Mubarak’s security forces, clung on in Tahrir Square in the face of mob attacks, and then simply took over when the regime began losing its ability to control or intimidate the crowds.

On the psychological and symbolic level, it is a shattering moment, says Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics.

Remember that Mubarak was the public face of political authoritarianism in the Arab world. He had built one of the most feared security apparatuses, employing five million personnel, the Monitor quoted Gerges as saying.

The forced exit of Mubarak from the presidential palace has sent shock waves to Arab rulers. Every village. Every neighbourhood. Every Arab regardless of how poor, or alienated or marginalised, (now has) a sense of empowerment, a sense of revival, says Gerges. The psychology of the Arab world has changed.

The Arab world was the place where change was once measured in decades, where authoritarian leaders like Saddam Hussein would seize power and hold their populations in abeyance for a generation at a time.

US President Barrack Obama spoke to that timeline in remarks also broadcast on Egyptian TV and across the Arab world. Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years. But over the last few weeks the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace as the Egyptian people demanded their universal rights,” Obama said.

We saw a new generation emerge, a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears, he said. A government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations.

Mubarak was one of those who signified fear, his Pharaonic edifice kept intact by a legion of security forces, paid thugs, and $40 billion in US military aid.

Tunisia was always seen as an exception, it was too remote, it had its own circumstances, says Hamid of Brookings. Egypt is the bellwether for the region, it is the political and cultural heart of the Arab world, and this is going to inspire people in a whole different way.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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