Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Winged Victory of Cairo

Hosni Mubarak is gone. The citizens of Egypt rose up, rallied, and successfully ousted their dictator. And as at other times in history, it was the moral force of non-violence--not terrorism or mindless killing--that bent the arc of history.

In the end, how will it all turn out? Will the Egyptian people be able to continue what they started and find their way to a fledgling democracy? Will they be able to sustain and build, brick by brick, the necessary institutions for legitimate elections, legislatures, and courts? At this point, nobody knows, not even the Sphinx.

"Perhaps the transformation taking place isn't only for Egypt," writes columnist Kathleen Parker, "but for all mankind. Perhaps we are not doomed after all." I couldn't help but think how recent events in Egypt are a huge vote of confidence for the Desmond Tutu philosophy I struggled with way back in November. "...There is no question at all but that good and laughter and justice will prevail...[and that] the perpetrators of injustice or oppression...will bite the dust," Tutu has stated this unequivocally, and he truly believes it, so it was thrilling to watch an ideational comment seemingly spring to life, right in front of our eyes.

For Parker, hope presented itself in the form of a single vignette: when unarmed protesters, reacting to Mubarak's refusal speech, raced to his palace and stood in front of the tanks. "It was a stark image of the prolonged battle between good and evil that humans apparently have been fated to fight," she writes. This time, evil did not win.

For me, the iconic moment of hope and victory over evil came later, when fleets of ordinary citizens could be seen, via TV cameras, cleaning up the debris in Tahrir Square after eighteen days of harrowing demonstrations. Men, women, and children were all hard at work sweeping the Square with brooms, hauling bulging black garbage bags, and lovingly repaving the bricks and stones that had been dug up earlier to use as weapons against the police. Most especially for me, the sight of some dozen people carrying aloft the carcass of a burned vehicle with their bare hands had to count as an exemplar of the triumphal human spirit worthy of the Louvre's "Winged Victory," Nike of Samothrace, redrawn for modern times.

My fellow blogger, Andrew Sullivan, who was too ill to man his blog, The Daily Dish, during the past month but is now back at his post, says he can't believe he missed out on a whole revolution. "What I will say," he writes, "is that, as I watched these miracles on television, I found my love of freedom and joy for the people of Egypt and Tunisia (as for the people of Iran) overwhelmed for a few days by my worries about such events spiraling out of control. But revolutions differ in their trajectories. Burke famously opposed the French one and backed the American one. What will make the difference is the character of the people, and the prudence of the statesmen and women who emerge in both countries. And others. In the end, we live in an era where hope is battling fear. Suddenly, hope is winning again. Let us not lose our skepticism. But let us not be intimidated by it either."

At the same time, we have the tide of history interpreted in gibberish by right-wing pundit, Ann Coulter. Like an ill-trained Labrador retriever, she yanks us headlong into traffic: "The way things are going, Obama may want to look into becoming the president of Egypt. Nobody would complain about him being a Muslim then," she said to cheers at the recent Republican CPAC meeting.

Good Lord, what would we do without these succulent Republicans mass-marketing insanity? They continue to illuminate a wider area than that which their maker ever intended. It is sad to think that while Egyptians attempt to establish a viable democracy, our own country is in the mind-boggling, self-destructive process of withdrawing vital government services, encouraging increased pollution, permitting its infrastructure to further decay, fomenting a class warfare not unlike Egypt's, and, bit by bit, letting a real democracy slip away.

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