It’s Sunday, two days after Liberation Square succeeded in freeing Egypt from its ruler, and I have been thinking about writing this blog since I first heard that President Mubarak was indeed leaving his post. That was Friday, at nine a.m., New York time. I was riding a bus to the Feminist Press office for a ten a.m. finance committee meeting of the Board of Directors. My blackberry buzzed and I opened to a news update from the NYTimes telling me that Mubarak had left Cairo, that the military had taken over, and I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that the military had told him it was time to go.
I wanted to shout the news to the bus. But the usual restraints prevailed and I had to wait half an hour to shout them to the other Board members at our committee meeting.
And since then, I’ve been trying to figure out why I felt so engaged through the two weeks, why I could not leave the television while Egyptian news was on, and why I raged about not being able to get Al Jazeera at all, except for clips on my computer. There’s no simple answer. Of course, I felt connected to my Egyptian friends, and worried about them. Then, when I heard that Nadia was an actual participant, I felt exhilarated, as though I had been there as well.
But I suspect something else going on in my head.
In the sixties and through the first half of the seventies, I participated in countless marches and sit-ins, either for an end to the Vietnam War or for civil rights or both. Never did I experience more than the short-lived energy of the event, one more effort without a satisfying conclusion. So the experience of Egyptians these two weeks was quite different: focused sharply on one purpose, and willing to die to achieve it. Television news-junkies like me could be “present” if they were willing to spend countless hours watching CNN, and for more limited periods, CBS and PBS. I stayed up past midnight to hear the Egyptian scholars and journalists on Charlie Rose, who knew from the start that this was history happening. Most impressive, for the last two evenings, Charlie Rose was there, late at night, in a Cairo hotel room with a glass wall through which viewers could see the Nile and the crowds, as though one were there. And the people who talked about talking with individuals in the crowds were not only articulate; they were personally moved by the experience. Plain-talking Thomas Friedman was exceptionally brilliant.
So perhaps I was vicariously there, vicariously reliving my earlier life, but with a different ending. And I can’t help thinking about the focus of the Egyptian movement, as well as its constantly increasing crowds, its inclusionary politics. Perhaps that movement learned from all previous movements. Perhaps it has an opportunity none has had before it. It is a pleasure to feel optimistic this day.