The Power of the People (updated version)
Mesmerizing. Awe-Inspiring. Courageous. Scary.
These are the words that come to mind when watching the uprising in Egypt. The power of the people, to overthrow an authoritarian government of 30 years, is truly remarkable to see.
Having been a student in France in May ‘68, I have been in the streets when the people rose up to demand change. May ‘68 was started by students in lycees and universities to protest a change in admissions to universities. It snowballed into eleven million workers and others joining in a general strike, demanding changes in society and cultural values as well as a greater democratization of institutions. May ‘68 closed down the country, lasted two weeks, weakened DeGualle, who subsequently resigned and did transform key institutions. Even though elections were held in June and the Gaullists decisively won, the changes perpetrated by this uprising sent a shock wave through this conservative society opening up a more liberal approach to society and moral values. It also transformed educational institutions with greater participation by students.
Of course, May ’68 was an uprising in a democratic country with many democratic institutions and processes in place. This is not the case in Egypt. Thus, we do not know where this uprising will lead and if, in fact, it will lead to a more democratic and liberal society or an Islamization of Egypt.
The tremors, however, are being felt throughout the region, with the Jordanian government dissolved and calling for fundamental changes. And of course an anxious Israel and the West are watching and waiting to see how these monumental changes transform the geopolitical realities of the Middle East.
One can only hope and pray that the people, who have spoken in Egypt, do have the opportunity to transform their country into a more democratic society supported by key economic and political stakeholders. A prosperous, peaceful, democratic Middle East would be the greatest gift to the world. It would be as monumental as the fall of the Berlin Wall.