“If you think yourself a man, then come with me on January 25th…”
And the rest is, as they say, history.
With those words, Asmaa Mahfouz, a young woman brimming with courage, challenged the men of her nation to take a stand for freedom. Little did they know it, but those men and women who chose to accompany her one week later to the heart of Egypt were making a date with world history.
Although Asmaa’s passionate appeal turned out to be a perfectly-timed ultimatum, the basis for her urgent Tahrir call is nothing new in Egypt. The cauldron of discontent has been heating steadily for many years. Now it is boiling over. Mubarak and his crew saw it coming, but instead of reforming their police state–as elected leaders should do–his government sought to repress the grievances of their people.
As it turns out, now with the going forth of a young woman’s impassioned youtube message, the captive genie of justice has been released from its bottle. No, the basis for demanding reform through free elections is not a new development in Egypt.
In 1993, Edward M. Said wrote:
“With literally no exceptions, every Egyptian I know and have discussed these matters with for the past half dozen years says the same disaffected, even disgusted things about the government. Deals on every conceivable commodity are made by middlemen and commission agents, usually with some minister or Mubarak-in-law as a front; public discourse is so devaluated that it is virtually impossible to tell the truth; the country is in effect ruled by a series of autocratic measures licensing the government to stop articles in newspapers, to jail and torture dissidents under emergency laws passed by Sadat but still in force now, and to prevent unions, political organizations, secular human rights groups from assembly or action.”
“We just want our human rights and nothing else…” pleaded Asmaa, on her grainy, un-hyped video posting of January 18.
“If you have honor and dignity as a man, come! Come and protect me and other girls in the protest…”
And come they did, by the hundreds of thousands.
Now cautious, comfortable people around the world are asking: Does this impetuous demand for popular government portend a soon-to-come takeover by Islamofascists? Does it pave the way for usurpation of rising democratic impulses by the Muslim Brotherhood or some other extremist groups?
That could happen, yes. Freedom is always a huge risk. Recall from your middle school social studies class what our founders risked in order to emancipate themselves from the burdens of King George III.
But the freedom and prosperity of the people of Egypt is worth taking that risk.
As a Christian who supports Israel, I say: Go for it, Egyptians! Go for freedom and justice. Go for constitutional government.
And as a born-free American, my insistence on freedom of assembly–my conviction that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth–requires that Egyptian citizens must be allowed to elect, in internationally-validated elections, their own leaders. And those elections should be arranged as soon as possible, before Mubarak’s crew has time to neutralize the presently positive thrust toward reformative democracy– and even, perhaps, before extremist elements have the chance to get their explosive ducks in a row.
It’s time for the people of Egypt to vote! United Nations, figure out how to make it happen, and how to effectively moniter those elections so that they are, as many have advocated, “free and fair.”
This could be a grand lesson in democracy for every nation of the world, including our friends the Israelis.