In The Suburbs / Egypt's mantra: 'Tweet me a democracy"™
Lyrics from an ancient Passover melody -- "Let My People Go" -- kept resonating as I watched the nonviolent toppling of President Hosni Mubarak's oppressive Egyptian government after nearly three decades.
In that haunting melody, we Jews implore our messiah, Moses, to "tell old Pharaoh to Let My People Go." And only after the 10th of 10 plagues killed every first-born Egyptian child, including Pharaoh's, did the stubborn monarch free Jews from 400 years of slavery and oppression.
And last week, Egyptians from around the world implored and then demanded that Mubarak step down and let democracy begin. In essence they told their leader to free them from oppression and "Let Our People Go."
Initially, Mubarak underestimated the power of a people, agreeing only to not run for reelection, then ceding power to his puppet vice president. None of that was good enough. And over the course of 18 days, the focus was on Tahrir Square, the grass-roots voice of the people became louder, the demands became more rigid and the world waited to see if any violence would erupt among Israel's closest neighbors.
With the prodding of the United States, the pressure built, and, late last week, the world waited for Mubarak's decision to step down. But last Friday, the president turned the tables and aborted that decision temporarily, causing such a furor in Tahrir Square that crowds exploded in anger. There was real concern about bloodshed.
Barely hours later, word came that Mubarak had left the presidential palace for Sharm el Sheikh, a resort on the Red Sea. Was I surprised? Hardly. This benevolent dictator left while the getting was good, and only when he reached the safety of the resort did he announce his decision to step down. Egypt went wild. Heck, the world went wild, especially "Little Egypt" -- a section of in Queens near LaGuardia airport.
The dancing in the streets was similar to what I remember when Israel achieved statehood after partition in 1948. The euphoria was electric then, and it was equally electric last week. No one cared about next week or next month. They were in the moment and the moment was freedom.
Among the latest reports I've been following, there is still no interim solution to make democracy happen, and I can only hope that is in process. Mubarak is said to be very ill and suffering from the psychological effects of this ordeal.
Amid the euphoria of this dramatic upheaval of government, my wife reminded me that this whole revolution evolved from a few tweets and e-mails from individuals who were tired of being poor and oppressed. Those messages built momentum and continued to be fueled by new and even more powerful messages.
In the interim, Tunisia's government toppled based on a similar message of oppression and a plea for rescue from a life of poverty. The message worked.
Our lives are so conditioned by the Internet that the flames of protest spread like a forest fire on the web, fueling the passions of Egyptian youth and driving the movement to topple Mubarak's regime. The ripple effect is already huge across the Middle East. Rumblings could explode into possibly violent uprisings in Iran, which moved immediately to try to squelch it. And the Egyptian revolution has put other countries in the region on high alert.
My good friend Walter at the Fairfield Museum reminded me of another revolution, unfortunately much more violent than in Egypt, that gave the United States its true independence over several years, ending in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris. By winning that revolution, he pointed out, the door opened for the French to move forward with their revolution and the overthrow of the Catholic Church in France.
The French Revolution lasted about 10 years, beginning with the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789 and ending about a decade later. It was a bloody revolution that saw 1,200 people executed by the guillotine, including King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette.
And those are only two of the major revolutions that are etched into history. The lists of regimes toppled by revolution are endless. Some have been violent and deadly and others less or non-violent.
But none have been almost completely driven by the Internet. So Egypt has made history on several technology fronts with its grassroots upheaval of Mubarak's government.
As the dust continues to settle in Egypt, the world will continue to watch for a signal of next steps toward real democracy. From my perspective, I don't think this hoped-for democracy is going to come easily, but like the birth of any democracy, it will come with crawling and stumbling and baby steps. And one day, this will happen.
Steven Gaynes's In The Suburbs column appears Fridays nin the Fairfield Citizen He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org