The popular uprising in Egypt is an earth-shaking event - what happens here could determine the course of the region and thus the world for the foreseeable future. But where did it all begin? Some point to Tunisia. Others point to Facebook. Still others remark that this has been brewing for decades, the spirit of revolution bequeathed by the grandfathers and great-grandfathers of this generation suddenly stirring from its fitful sleep. True, these sources have played their part, in fact, I believe we’re witnessing the world’s first Internet revolution, but this movement truly began as a popular demand for human dignity.
Early last year Khaled Said, a twenty-eight-year-old Egyptian blogger, was dragged from a net café in the coastal city of Alexandria and thrown in the back of a police truck. He was then taken to a residential building where, according to several eyewitnesses, the officers gave him a merciless beating. Despite his protests and pleas, the officers continued their work, repeatedly slamming his head against the concrete walls and stairs. Hours later, they dumped his mangled, lifeless body in the same street. His crime? In an attempt to expose police corruption, Khaled posted a video of officers dividing up the spoils after a drug bust. The charges? None were ever levied against him. The police autopsy states that he died of asphyxiation after swallowing a sack of marijuana. The two officers responsible for his murder were later charged with using “excessive force” and suspended.
This incident of blatant abuse of power and disregard for human life did not, like so many others before, go unnoticed. Through Internet media, Khaled’s story spread and his image became a clarion call to Egyptians, young and old, to demand recognition of their eroding human rights and to question the necessity of the country’s 30-year-old emergency law which permits the authorities to arrest, detain, and torture any citizen without filing charges or presenting evidence. (Sound familiar, America?) As the year passed, similar incidents occurred, and by January 25th, a national holiday in honor of the police force, a massive simultaneous march through Egyptian cities was planned. Khaled Said’s friends, family, and sympathizers organized the march on a website and Facebook page titled, “We Are All Khaled Said.” The number of men and women who defied the emergency law and hit the streets of Alexandria, Cairo, Suez, and other cities throughout the country exceeded one million, overwhelming authorities and astonishing even the organizers.
Though somewhat shaken by the state terrorism that killed hundreds, wounded thousands, and imprisoned inestimable numbers, those who began this revolution remained determined to bring irreversible change to Egypt. Soon the population at large began to see this youth movement as something worth standing up for, something worth speaking out for, and something worth living for. Enforced with hundreds of thousands of supporters who joined in demanding the ouster of a corrupt regime, after 18 days the people of Egypt are now celebrating the liberation of their country from the grips of a fading patriarch. In Midan Il-Tahrir (“Liberation Square”), the symbol of their hopes and dreams for the future of their country, the youth of Cairo are dancing in praise and elation for their victory. Mubarak once infamously uttered he would hold on to power until his “last breath.” Like so many other promises he made to his people, he could not keep this oath. Mubarak must have surely realized that Egypt could never again be the same police state where people are subjugated with fear and where dissent is met with murder.
Often in American media, reporting tends to focus solely on how international events affect us Americans. Confined to our own continent in the new world, we seldom find it worth our time to sympathize with the plight of the old. So, why should this struggle concern us? How, besides a rise in gas prices, will it shape life in the USA? Our own Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his letter from a Birmingham prison once wrote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In a global society, there must be universal recognition of human rights; else we risk nullifying, or worse, losing our own.
Hollis B. Ball is a writer and Covington native who has lived and worked in Cairo, Egypt for six years.