Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Why the Egyptian People Need to Win

The Egyptian people have spoken and they have spoken decisively. They have spoken for change. Nearly this exact wording was used by John McCain in his concession speech after Barack Obama won the election. “The American people have spoken and they’ve spoken decisively.” He said. “They have spoken for change.” In many ways Barack Obama’s presidency has been a disappointment – although his people spoke decisively, he has not, or perhaps he has been silenced in a system that has ancient bureaucratic frameworks built specifically to delay and stymy bright moments of change. What was most exciting about his election was sadly not what happened next – it was the feeling that the people had a will, even the poorest first time voters in the United States, and that that will had the power to influence change, and that they lived in a democracy where such change was possible.

The people in Egypt have a will too, although they work against a different system – they can not put this energy behind a well funded, centre left, charismatic politician in an election where they only have two options. Their president has over stayed his welcome if he was ever welcome to begin with. And the change the Egyptian people are seeking, when they succeed, as they must succeed, will be far more decisive and meaningful than the election of Barack Obama. Where that “grassroots” movement took the people’s collective frustration and harnessed it to elect the leader of a party that in fact had never been quite so radical, this movement is organized by the people, and it is not chaos, it is its own temporary paradigm of collective leadership that has succesfully seen through sixteen days, and could see through sixteen more, or however long it takes. It is an exercise of endurance, where more people join each day because they believe that change is possible, and that the people can make it happen.

This is why the Egyptian people need to win. In the west we have been presented with such appalingly limited paths toward true and meaningful change and democracy. The election of Barack Obama was internationally celebrated because the candidate he seemed to be before the election was radical. He was radical because he was intelligent. He seemed to recognise what was wrong with his country and he was not afraid to speak out about it. He spoke out about Guantanamo Bay, about Health Care Reform, about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said what the people were thinking. He asked the same questions and he promised to change what he could. But he represented a party – a party that had been in power countless times before and will be in power countless times again. And in this sense what he had to offer could never have been as radical as the people needed it to be. Because the system was not changing. And even a good man at the head of a corrupt system can apparently not change much.

The Egyptian people are calling for reforms of their leader and their system. The Egyptian people are not making change happen through a well worn and possibly corrupt election. They are making change happen through their collective wills.

I need to know that I live in a world that is not so flattened by international bureaucracy and globalization that millions of people in the streets can not remove one stubborn tyrant, Mubarak, from power. The world needs to know this. Because perhaps it is this, above all, that needs to change. The people need to feel empowered. The people need to feel that what they think and feel matters. The people speak for change, and they speak decisively. They need to know that somebody is listening, and that they won't be arrested for speaking. Egypt could change the world.

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