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Musings on Egypt, Freedom

Posted: February 14, 2011 - 7:48am

I am transfixed by the developments in Egypt. The last time I was so captivated by a rise in political unrest was when the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc began to unravel, beginning with the crumbling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I knew then that history was in the making. I even made my 6-year-old daughter watch the news with me, especially when all the euphoric pandemonium broke out in Berlin. She remembers it to this day.

As I watch hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square, the situation in Egypt is beginning to feel the same. Now on the 18th day and with the departure of Hosni Mubarak we know it is the same. Pandemonium runs over in Tahrir Square as millions chant, “Egypt is Free.” Once again, we are witnesses to how the drive for freedom, even suppressed for decades, can erupt into a potent force for social change. The turning of the tanks around in Tahrir Square is the revolutionary equivalent of the East Berliners streaming into West Berlin.

Watching interviews with the jubilant protestors, I am struck by the sincerity of their desire for basic individual freedoms — to vote, to have a free press, to assemble, to speak without fear. They remain faithful to these core values even when baited by the American press. “What if the Muslim Brotherhood were to win control of Parliament?” asked a reporter. The reply, “If that happens it will be the people’s choice. This is about the people having a voice, about being able to vote.”

While I liked the answer, I could tell that the reporter was hoping to cast doubt and concern over the possible rise of Islamic rule in Egypt. This got me thinking. Why must we politicize the basic drive for freedom? Is it because we’ve allowed our discussion of “freedom” to be co-opted by divisive politics? Does freedom mean I have the right to pass on my health care costs to others because I’ve decided to use the emergency room as my doctor’s office? If I can’t buy an assault weapon or avoid a background check through an unlicensed gun vendor, does that mean my freedom to bear arms is being stepped on? As you can see, I can become confused by what “freedom” really means in America. Or what “take our country back” means. From whom? We have no Mubarak to oppose.

It is the appeal of these simple, straightforward constructs of freedom I find so alluring in the demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. These people are seeking freedoms clearly spelled out in our Constitution and Bill of Rights — the rights to vote, free speech, a free press and assembly. This is what makes the demonstrations in Egypt such a teachable moment not just for our children and grandchildren but for us as a society. By being clearly on the side of the demonstrators we get to renew our core principles of freedom. Tahrir Square is filled with Egyptians of all ages and from all backgrounds. It is an atmosphere free of our political pollution. Perhaps, through the eyes of these noble people, we can hit the ‘refresh’ button on our own notions of freedom.

But more importantly, let us just relish the display of unadulterated joy of freedom that now ripples throughout the Middle East. As noted by President Barack Obama, “The Egyptians have inspired us. [They have shown] it is the moral force of non-violence that has bent the arc of history.” Let our hearts swell with hope for an orderly path toward lasting democratic reforms. These historic moments when the power of human dignity is on full display are to be cherished as invaluable reminders of the common humanity we share with people all across the world. It is Egypt’s revolution, but it is the world’s day to rejoice just as we did when the Berlin Wall came crashing down.

• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.

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