Monday, February 14, 2011

Rally Outside Egyptian Embassy Had A Festive Atmosphere

I joined about 300 other people on Saturday afternoon outside the Egyptian Embassy in DC to celebrate Mubarak’s resignation. With music blasting over loud speakers and people literally dancing in the streets, the crowd brought a wide variety of people ranging from families with young children to people who appeared to be in their 70’s and 80’s. Tears of joy were being shed by protesters in traditional Egyptian clothes as well as those sporting the latest American fashions. No matter who you talked to in the crowd, however, it was clear that they were proud of the Egyptian people and wanted to ensure that the democracy the protesters worked for is actually put in place.

Beyond the obvious celebratory atmosphere at the rally, there was also the realization that there is some uncertainty of what exactly is going to happen over the next few months. While the military has taken over the government, for instance, several people that I spoke to at the rally were a little unclear about who was actually in charge at the moment. Was it Vice-President Omar Suleiman, a high ranking member of parliament, or someone in the military? While yesterday’s announcement that the military council had suspended parliament and would be leading the country for 6 months or until an election can be held brings some clarity to the confusion, the uncertainty at the rally goes to show just how new and unclear some of these issues are for the Egyptian people at the moment.

What was clear at the rally is that Egyptians are prepared to hold the military accountable if it doesn’t keep its promise to oversee a peaceful transition. When I asked what he thought would happen if the transition just resulted in a new authoritarian regime taking power, one man in his thirties told me that “the revolution showed that Egyptians refuse to live under a dictator. We overthrew one regime and we can overthrow another.” That sentiment appeared to be shared by the majority of the people in attendance at the rally. A number of people even highlighted how the protesters in Egypt are already trying to show that they’re able to govern themselves by taking the initiative to clean up Tahir Square.

While most of the people there were extremely optimistic about Egypt’s future, there were some people who were cautious of the fact that there still is some work to be done to ensure that a democracy that truly listens to the voice of the people is actually put in place. For example, I had a few people point out to me that Mubarak actually came from the military. The fact that he ended up handing power over to the military therefore gave them some concern because they weren’t sure if the military would want to give up power. There was discussion of someone like Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (the head of the military council) or Sami Fnan (Chief of Staff of the military) potentially resigning from the military to run for president. That move could mean that while the military wouldn’t technically be in charge, it could be overrepresented in the behind the scenes governing.

The celebration of Mubarak’s resignation and the conversations about the transition process in Egypt were obviously the main focus of people at the rally. With that being said, folks simply couldn’t help but talk about the international events that related to the revolution. As people were checking blackberries and getting text messages from friends, for instance, there began to be a lot of talk about the events unfolding in Algeria. Fresh off of overthrowing a dictator in Egypt, the folks at the rally were outraged to hear the news that the Algerian government was cracking down on protesters. There was even more frustration with the news that the Iranian government was making it illegal for people to publicly demonstrate against the government. Right in the middle of the celebration, I saw many people reminding their friends to join online groups supporting the protesters in both countries.

As I left the rally, I walked away knowing that there was an immense amount of pride for the people of Egypt. Many of the people who had gathered outside the Egyptian Embassy had never known an Egypt without Mubarak as president and thrilled at the direction the country was moving. At the same time, they knew the transition process isn’t over yet and there is still work that needs to be done if democracy is going to prevail in their homeland.

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