We are all Egyptians. That’s been one of the mantras of the past 2-1/2 weeks but today it was truer than ever.
When I moved here 5-1/2 years ago, something puzzled me about Egyptians. There seemed to be some fundamental difference with me as an American. Took me awhile to figure it out, but it finally hit me that Americans expect to be able to get almost anything until they’re told they can’t have it (and even then sometimes they go after it anyway). Egyptians (generalizing here, but indulge me) expected that they couldn’t have something until they were told that they could. In my mind – and to close friends – I postulated that what they really needed was a sense of pride in themselves and national pride in Egypt. I wasn’t sure that the tides could turn in this – or even the next – generation.
Since the protests started on January 25 and on every day since then, Egyptians have turned my simplistic theory on its head. I’ve always known that Egyptians were resourceful, resilient people who had an incredible sense of humor, but I couldn’t dream of them turning the world upside down in 18 days. [here's another example of Egyptian humor]
Everyone who knows me will tell you that I’m rarely, if ever, speechless – but today left me without words. Well, at least for about 2 minutes and then I was yammering away with a room full of three generations of Egyptians – some of whom had lived through two wars and then still suffered directly from oppression and inexplicable detentions under the 30-year Emergency Law, others of whom are young and had wondered about what future they could possibly have in the Egypt they were born into.
Tonight, the streets of Egypt are on fire – this time not with Molotov cocktails or burning tires but with joy, elation, pride, hope and optimism.
Each and every Egyptian has a picture in their minds of the Egypt they had never imagined they’d imagine. Tomorrow and the days to come will bring new details of the hard job ahead of them – to rewrite their constitution, define presidential qualifications and powers, prepare for the first “free and fair” elections in their history, rebuild the economy and welcome expats and tourists back into a country that is known for its hospitality.
Anyone who tells you that Egypt is not ready for democracy is flat out wrong. It may not be the style of democracy that Western powers think they should have, but it will be democracy nonetheless. A democracy fought for by Egyptians, won by Egyptians, created by Egyptians and – with every ballot in that box, whether it’s in September or a few months later – voted into reality by Egyptians. They will be Christians and Muslims (Brotherhood, conservatives, moderates and Sufi), secular, Baha’i, young, old, rich, poor, political or not, even the few remaining Egyptian Jews in a society that is rapidly becoming extinct - they are Egyptians who deserve this chance to use the voice they’ve finally freed.
If you’ve never been to Egypt, come. It’ll be the trip of a lifetime (long ago I thought it would be my “once in a lifetime”) that you’ll never regret. You’ll have a great time and every dollar you put into the tourism industry here will have the extra bonus of being a vote of confidence in their future. It’ll take a little while to get things back to operating smoothly, but for the adventurers, there will be some amazing travel bargains coming up soon.
If you’re in business and looking for a way to get in on the ground floor, there will be myriad opportunities during and after the transition period. Come share your experience and also use the time to listen and learn from people who will be more than willing to be motivated, hard working and eager to prove themselves.
No one thinks it will be easy, but Egyptians are up for the challenge.
In closing, I’d like to share a few of my favorite images of this revolution and I hope that you will feel Egyptian too.
This YouTube video – Sout Al Houriya (Voice of Freedom) shows some of the collected images of Tahrir Square and is set to original music.
Hats off (pun intended) to the bread-head and halla helmeted (halla are pots & pans) men who created innovative ways to protect themselves from rocks hurled by the thugs who sought to crush them a few days into demonstrations.
To share a tiny bit of the Cairo celebration with you, check out this video from Al Jazeera English, shot from their Cairo bureau office and allowing you to be a part of what it would be like if you were here. And this video in Tahrir Square, with fireworks and flares set off in celebration.
There were so many clever and funny signs in Tahrir Square, but this was one of my favorites. My son has said for years that the reason Egyptians love me is that they treasure ancient things. May be, but I treasure them right back.
I have a hundred or more things I loved that I could put here, but in the interest of time, I’ll end with something from one of my two favorite correspondents, Ayman Mohyeldin of Al Jazeera International (as noted in my earlier post, Ben Wedeman of CNN was the other one). Their superb coverage of events in Egypt over the past few weeks should leave no doubt in your minds that Americans should also have unfettered access to this channel. At around 11:15 Cairo time tonight (4:15 EST), Ayman tweeted, “today witnessed the fall of one man from power and the empowerment of 80 million Egyptians”. So true.
From this humbled honorary Egyptian, alf mabrouk – 1000 congratulations - and I hope that I can be a part, in any small way, of building the new, extraordinary Egypt of today and tomorrow. I hear that the cleanup effort starts Saturday in Tahrir Square. I’ll be there with the garbage bags and gloves I’ve been saving for the past 5 years and just waiting for Egyptians to give me a chance to use!
Jan Diggs is Arabia Inform’s Global Business Development Manager and has been based in Cairo for more than 5 years.
Other posts about the Egyptian revolution: