The powers that be in Israel clamped a deafening silence on themselves when the Egyptian people rose up against Hosni Mubarak. There was precious little that Israel could do to sway events in one direction or the other, since this revolution did not have its origins in issues related to the foreign, strategic, or defense policies of Cairo.
Dharamsala, India—Flying from Delhi to Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile in northern India, takes about 90 minutes. The plane lands in the valley below the Dhauladar range of the Himalayas, a massive barrier between India and Tibet. From the airport, the road leads up to the former British hill station that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made available in 1960 to the Dalai Lama, who had escaped from Chinese-occupied Tibet the year before.
Beyond the euphoria and uncertainties of the moment, the revolt in Egypt has sparked a debate about how much technology and information matter in a revolutionary context. Some commentators, particularly in TV coverage, have claimed that Twitter, Facebook, and blogs largely drove events in Egypt.
As protests inspired by the Egyptian uprising spread throughout the Middle East, there has been a lot of speculation about what government might fall next. Could it be Bahrain? Or Libya? Or Yemen? In fact, one of the governments that might, over the long run, be most vulnerable isn’t really on anyone’s radar at the moment.
In the brief national soul-searching that followed the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, many observers, including President Obama, reflected on the troubling excess of anger and moral indignation in our political discourse—the kind of indignation that turns opponents into enemies, and campaigns into crusades. Yet, even as responsible figures on the right and the left in America are urging their fellow-citizens (in Roger Ailes’s surprising words) to “tone it down,” the best-selling book in France is a pamphlet titled Indignez-vous!—roughly, Get Angry!
The massive protests that forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s departure have been widely described as a revolution. And that’s fine. If there is an Internet revolution, a Reagan revolution, and even an Obama revolution, then there has certainly been an Egyptian revolution. But there is another meaning of revolution that applies specifically to events like the French, Russian, or Chinese Revolutions. In this sense of the word, Egypt has not yet had a revolution; and the success of the protests will depend ultimately on whether it does have one.
For nearly three weeks as I watched the exhilarating news coming from Cairo, I had in my head four great canvases by Delacroix that hang forbiddingly in the Grande Galerie at the Louvre: The Massacre at Scio, The Bark of Dante, The Death of Sardanapalus, Liberty Leading the People.Each of them is a passionate semblance of the threat of death or of death itself. I cannot imagine anyone who has seen these impressions ever having them completely out of his head. I know the images in the Dante very well because I happen to have in my house a Cezanne oil study of the Delacroix original.
In both the euphoria and the apprehension that have accompanied the popular uprisings in the Arab Middle East that, no matter who succeeds them, have already resulted in the fall of two tyrants and the first credible threats to several more, there has been much talk about freedom and democracy and about secularism versus Islamism. Predictably, if also dishearteningly, there has been an avalanche of the usual cyber-utopian techno-babble about the emancipatory potential of the Bluetooth devices and Twitter feeds for which authoritarian tyrannies are said to be no match.
What the people of Egypt have accomplished in recent weeks is nothing short of extraordinary. If you are born in America, you are born into freedom; most of us will never have to decide whether to go into the streets of our cities, risking imprisonment and worse, in order to demand our freedom. To watch the Egyptian people make this brave decision, and today to watch them triumph where so many other courageous people in similar situations have failed, has been exhilarating. The job of American policymakers is now to help the people of Egypt ensure that this victory does not evaporate.
Cairo, Egypt—Early Thursday evening, Tahrir Square was full of optimism. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was going to address the nation, and everyone was debating what he was going to say. People had heard he was going to resign; they thought the movement that has swept Egypt for the last 17 days, shutting down the country, might finally have succeeded. There was a carnival-like atmosphere: People hugged, wrung each other’s hands, bought popcorn and tea from vendors, chanted, and sang songs. It was a high point for the protest community that has taken root in the heart of Cairo.