The words of Mubarak and Suleiman directed to the democracy demonstrators could not have been more insulting: “Trust us. We’ll take over the reform agenda now. You all can go back home, get back to work and stop letting those foreign satellite TV networks — i.e., Al Jazeera — get you so riled up. Also, don’t let that Obama guy dictate to us proud Egyptians what to do.”As I've said before, this sounds so much like our own civil rights movement of 50 years ago.
This narrative is totally out of touch with the reality of this democracy uprising in Tahrir Square, which is all about the self-empowerment of a long-repressed people no longer willing to be afraid, no longer willing to be deprived of their freedom, and no longer willing to be humiliated by their own leaders, who told them for 30 years that they were not ready for democracy. Indeed, the Egyptian democracy movement is everything that Hosni Mubarak says it is not: homegrown, indefatigable and authentically Egyptian. Future historians will write about the large historical forces that created this movement, but it is the small stories you encounter in Tahrir Square that show why it is unstoppable.
I spent part of the morning in the square watching and photographing a group of young Egyptian students wearing plastic gloves taking garbage in both hands and neatly scooping it into black plastic bags to keep the area clean. This touched me in particular because more than once in this column I have quoted the aphorism that “in the history of the world no one has ever washed a rented car.” I used it to make the point that no one has ever washed a rented country either — and for the last century Arabs have just been renting their countries from kings, dictators and colonial powers. So, they had no desire to wash them.
Well, Egyptians have stopped renting, at least in Tahrir Square, where a sign hung Thursday said: “Tahrir — the only free place in Egypt.” So I went up to one of these young kids on garbage duty — Karim Turki, 23, who worked in a skin-care shop — and asked him: “Why did you volunteer for this?” He couldn’t get the words out in broken English fast enough: “This is my earth. This is my country. This is my home. I will clean all Egypt when Mubarak will go out.” Ownership is a beautiful thing....
Finally, crossing the Nile bridge away from the square, I was stopped by a well-dressed Egyptian man — a Times reader — who worked in Saudi Arabia. He was with his wife and two young sons. He told me that he came to Cairo Thursday to take his two sons to see, hear, feel and touch Tahrir Square. “I want it seared in their memory,” he told me. It seemed to be his way of ensuring that this autocracy never returns. These are the people whom Mubarak is accusing of being stirred up entirely by foreigners. In truth, the Tahrir movement is one of the most authentic, most human, quests for dignity and freedom that I have ever seen.
Friday, February 11, 2011
No Longer Willing To Be Humiliated
The NYT's Tom Friedman from Egypt: