15 FEBRUARY 2011


In 18 days, the 80 million of Egyptians, with 7,000 years of culture, broke down the massive wall of fear. Their proud country and the neighbouring Arab world will never be the same again.

The most emotional, defining moment came on 11 February when a General of the Armed Forces speaking collectively on behalf of his colleagues raised his hand in a military tribute to the "martyrs" who died and stressed that an interim handling of Mubarak's departure was not an alternative to the rightful demand for democratic reform.

A day before, there was overwhelming disappointment at the delusional speech of President Mubarak and a frustrated sense that more will have to be done.

While outside observers were evaluating the staying power of the demonstrators, there were obvious questions on the potential role of the army in dealing with a former commander of the Air Force who became President and was determined to stay, even at the risk of civil war. One reason for a delayed decision was that some senior officers were hoping for other options while younger officers were ready for action. Both factions would have kept in mind a 1952 experience when Colonel Nasser led a coup, placing a figurehead General Naguib to overtake compliant senior officers. A key figure in the eventual military action would be Lieutenant General Samir Enan who, together with General Tantawi, had just returned from a regular visit to Washington. While some senior army officers were inclined to grant a former comrade in arms some breathing space, an overwhelming majority of younger officers shared with the demonstrators an angry rejection of the presidential ambitions of Gamal Hosni Mubarak, particularly that he had never served his national duty. It was indicative that some officers around the Square made a point of cuddling children of protesters and allowing tired activists to doze on their tanks' wheels.

That raises the other variable: the U.S. position seemed to waver. Despite a clear statement by President Obama that "today meant yesterday," there were grey interpretations, surprisingly by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (perhaps not so surprising given the financially profitable links between former President Bill Clinton and Sheikhs in the United Arab Emirates, who were very nervous about the impact of Mubarak to whom they sent their "kid" of a Foreign Minister to express support on the eve of his delusional statement). Another cloud of suspicion on U.S. attitude were views expressed by U.S. Special Envoy Frank Wisner who it turned out had a conflict of interest -- being paid by a legal firm with close ties to influential firms in Egypt. They may have aimed at undercutting U.S. President Obama as much as seeking rewards from certain sources in the Middle East. But President Obama eventually regained his voice and openly sided with the Egyptian people. That, for a change, was an excellent U.S. foreign policy decision. Particularly when Mubarak tried to pull a Netanyahu protest against the U.S. President, the answer came firm and quick.

By then, Cairo's Midan Al-Tahrir earned its name in political history: "LIBERATION SQUARE."

Where else in the world would you find two Nobel Prize winners (one in Peace, another in Chemistry) sharing street pavement with prominent medical doctors, successful architects, internet executives, artists, poets, writers, university students, unemployed youth, men and women with less than $5 a day income, poorest of the poor who have nowhere to sleep but in cemetries and others who have nowhere to go but those streets. Where else would hundreds of thousands form a human shield to protect their heritage at the National Museum?

That square was always at the throbbing heart of an extensively spread capital. Hurried cars, rushing pedestrians, cramped riders hanging to the edge of buses, policemen trying desperately to direct uncontrollable traffic, curious visitors keen on finding out what it is all about, an almost constant hum that kept everyone on the move. The valuable Egyptian Museum is in the corner, a central governmental building combining almost all ministries, Al-Mugammea, is on the other side. Main streets pour into it from every direction, one leads to the main railway station, another to radio and TV, a third to a shopping haven, where famous social meeting cafe, Groppy, still stands. Most established hotels are nearby: Hilton, Semiramsi's (Intercontinental), and Shepards; others are just across the Nile river. A nearby bridge, actually two bridges, connect cars and pedestrians with the greener part of Cairo.

There is usually an intimidating atmosphere about Midan Al-Tahrir. It's so vast, swift and crowded that you somehow feel alone and overwhelmed. A wide gaze as far as your eyes can see -- no hills or mountains -- may give the feeling that you are perhaps unsheltered by nature; unprotected. You will need someone else next to you, with you, to feel at ease; The more, the stronger.

When young crowds, particularly women, started joining together at the square, they still felt vulnerable. One of them was tortured to death, another was kidnapped and only returned two weeks later after an international outcry. With Google, Facebook, Twitter, laptops, cell phone messaging and locally devised loudspeakers, more started pouring in. A BBC Aerial photo showed how considerate and civil was the young rebellious group. Food stalls, water points and toilets on the North side, clinics, newspaper wall and artwork on the East side, campsite, kindergarten on West side and an Internet center in the middle.

It was not just the Internet revolution that brought attention; it was the MESSAGE that addressed issues close to the popular nerve. It was the intelligent and gracious response of young men and women that made the difference. It was the dedicated and unassuming collaboration of people who may have never met before, but discovered how close they were. An editor wearing gloves to collect garbage in order to keep the square clean; a doctor leaving a lucrative clinic to help treat the overstressed and injured; volunteers to search and be searched to prevent "Baltagiah" from sneaking and spoiling the cause; Christians making a protective bodily cordon around praying Moslems and Moslems affectionately surrounding Christians holding a mass under a large sign of the Cross; everyone standing together when goons riding camels and horses charged in to disrupt and intimidate peaceful decent citizens.

Actually, it was a sense of belonging together and to that great country, Egypt, that strengthened their will to stay and resist until their demands were met. Whole families joined others. When a sense of victory seemed imminent, they were pointing to one another, shouting: "Masr...Ahuh, Ahuh" (This is Egypt. This is Egypt). It was a uniquely peaceful yet most powerful emergence of popular anger and national pride, a visible display of the most effective power of human dignity.

In the final analysis, Egypt is Egypt. It is the most crucial country in the Arab world, whose real role was lost over the last three decades. Its Asian, African, Mediterranean, regional and international credentials are overwhelmingly indicative of potential developments: It all depends on what happens there next. Youth groups who found themselves at the mainstream of attention insisted that they were coordinating but not leading the increasingly popular movement. With the thrust of their immediate demands visibly accomplished, they remain vigilant in preparing for the next phase. To ensure effective monitoring, they formed the Coalition of the Youth of the Egyptian Revolution and, in a practical political step joined a newly formed Front for the Protection of the Revolution.

Meanwhile, like their brothers and sisters in Tunis, the Egyptian people proved how worthy they are of their great country. MASR UMMIDDUNIA.