History buffs and proponents of nonviolent protest never fail to be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in their respective struggles against colonialism and prejudice. They mobilzed and through peaceful means overthrew an intolerable status quo and brought revolution and change to their countries. In the past week, we have been witnesses to the events in Egypt that brought down the 31-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of protesters peacefully stood their ground for 18 days until the inevitable happened. Gandhi and King would have approved.
Of course, the events were not entirely without violence as over 300 people were reportedly killed and countless others injured. But the violence was not the work of those clamoring for change; it came from repressive elements within the Mubarak regime. What this revolution illustrated was how the courage, the discipline and the will for freedom was able to triumph over tyranny and repression.
We do not know how this revolution will ultimately turn out. The military, while respected, has produced every ruler in Egypt since 1952. Now that it is in charge, it has suspended the constitution and ended the emergency measures of Mubarak. It has embarked on a process with members of the civil society that is expected to lead to a new constitution with free elections. The revolution, with no real identifiable charismatic leadership, represents a shocking and game changing development in the Arab world—not unlike the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is not surprising that other autocratic states in the region seem concerned and Israel, the only real functioning democracy in the area, is cautiously observing future developments.
In the United States, it appeared that events in Egypt and their extent were not anticipated. The American political class, however, showed reserve and restraint. President Obama and his team acted in a responsible and wise manner, supporting the goals of the revolution and nudging Mubarak out in a way that it remained an Egyptian moment and not one instigated by a meddling American administration. The Republican leadership on foreign policy matters—including John McCain, Lindsay Graham and John Boehner—has supported the way the White House conducted itself.
While the US government cannot be accused of interference, it is fair to say that American ingenuity and innovation played a pivotal role in the success of the protesters. Facebook and other social media such as Twitter are being attributed a major role in mobilizing the masses and maintaining the resistance. There may not have been a Gandhi or Martin Luther King leading the charge in the crowd , but there was technology that paved the way for the vision, the goals and the opportunity which led to a peaceful and victorious outcome . That in itself is sufficient enough to worry the other goverments in the region. Again, I assume Gandhi and King would have approved.
John Parisella is currently serving as Quebec’s delegate-general in New York City.