In retrospect, perhaps Hosni Mubarak’s decision not to resign as president of Egypt shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Why wouldn’t we expect the end of his reign to mirror how he governed: selfishly, disgracefully, and in ways that deeply scared his country?
The antagonist in this extraordinary historical and human drama, then, is the Egyptian dictator — a ruthless man apparently intent on provoking a violent confrontation with people he calls “my sons and daughters.” But there are also the protagonists: the men and women of Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt, who are seeking to redeem their nation after 30 years of repression.
Over the past 17 days, they have shown the world an unforgettable lesson in bravery and human endurance. Demonstrators are telling reporters “give me liberty or give me death,” “I am willing to die for freedom,” and “I am not tired in spirit.” Again and again, they speak about their desire for democracy and to escape their chains.
Of course, the revolution can go awry. The Muslim Brotherhood is a danger. A military crackdown, followed by a military dictatorship, may occur. And it is difficult for liberty to take root in the rocky soil of the Arab Middle East. So, yes, it’s far too early to know how this revolution in the Land on the Nile will wind up. But if it is unclear how things will end, it’s perfectly clear how they began — with millions of Egyptians rising up on behalf of what Jefferson called “unalienable rights.” Can anyone watch the Egyptian demonstrators, who are more likely to cite the American Declaration of Independence than they are to burn the American flag, and not be moved or express solidarity with their cause? We are witnesses to a stirring moment.
The House of Mubarak is coming apart; one day soon it will lie in ruin. Unfortunately for Egypt, Mubarak himself is determined to disassemble it door-jam by door-jam; he does not want to go gently into the good night. But into the night he will go, sooner or later, gently or not.
In The American Crisis, written to boost the morale of the Americans during the Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine wrote: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
As it was then, so it is today. And just as Paine, an Englishman, adopted the American cause as his own, we Americans should adopt the Egyptian cause as our own.