Last week, a mostly peaceful demonstration by the citizens of Egypt removed from power a political system that had strangled real democratic rule in the country for 30 years.
Without troops on the ground and with minimal violence – supporters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak did enter Tahir Square to physically intimidate demonstrators – democratic regime change was set in motion. And it is spreading now to other countries. Last weekend, protestors again began anti-government demonstrations in Tehran.
Liberation did not come to Egypt after a deployment of foreign troops or cruise missiles launched at presidential palaces. A despotic government was overthrown without an international war.
In the press, coverage of the demonstrations made repeated reference to the roles played by the Web and, in particular, to Facebook and to Twitter. As important as those social tools clearly are, credit or blame (depending on how you look at it) belongs with the deepening effects of the economic crisis and its resulting food shortages and wage reductions.
As pointed out here last week by Dr. James Zogby, who discussed his excellent book “Arab Voices,” at the Woodmere Art Museum, Egyptians and other people in the Arab world want only what we want: a good quality of life, a role in government and a future for their children.
People in Egypt, where some 20 percent of people even have Internet access according to the New York Times, weren’t suddenly inspired by Facebook posts and tweets to take to the street. They saw their quality of life finally squeezed to the point at which they couldn’t take it anymore. It’s not that far off from what English colonists here felt in 1774. Social media tools were certainly a big help, but they were just that: tools. They were not the means or cause of revolt.
There are certainly many challenges ahead in Egypt. The path to real representative democracy is not clear and much depends on the Egyptian military, which has essentially taken over security and governance for now. Such arrange- ments have not worked out well in other countries.
Still there is a lot to be hopeful for in Egypt.
Egypt is just such a phenomenon. It’s a sign that people really do hold a remarkable amount of power when they organize to wield it. Let’s hope that phenomenon continues to spread.