On the Events in Egypt

I ride a train some mornings, hurtling south in darkness toward the port of Tacoma, past shadowed bridges, around fields glazed with frost, through tentative and unheard bird songs.  Today, for the first time this winter, the journey ended as a portent of a sunrise began to glow behind the mountain screen in the East.

After the burning oil wells and wrenchingly uniform destruction of 2010, the year of 2011 is already ablaze with an optimism that cannot be quenched, that refuses to be contained.  Just read Pierre Haski’s missive today on Rue 89 [translation by Adam Cathcart, some Chinese terms added to the original French] :

How can one fail to be  transported by the images from Cairo? How not to share the joy of millions of Egyptians of all social classes and of all faiths who, from weakness in eighteen days, with their bare hands, have rid themselves of a dictator who had seemed so immovable, so sure of himself, that he had even been preparing for a dynastic succession?

How, too, can one fail to be impressed by this revolution — the second peaceful in the space of one month — which overthrew the presidents who had been in power for three decades, authoritarian and corrupt, protected and coddled by the Western powers for their role as a bulwark against radical Islam?

Tunisia took everyone by surprise.  But experts warned against the domino theory, stressing that Tunesia did not weigh heavy geopolitically, that Egypt remained something else … Whatever they said, the same causes have produced the same effects, and in Egypt, the largest Arab country that has always set the tone, events have shifted even faster than in little Tunisia.

These revolutions are unlike any other. No charismatic leader, no secret organization, no secret army …

Comment ne pas être transporté par les images en provenance du Caire ?  Comment ne pas partager la joie de ces millions d’Egyptiens de toutes catégories sociales et de toutes croyances qui ont abattu en dix-huit jours , à mains nues, un dictateur qui semblait inamovible, si sûr de lui qu’il se préparait même à une succession dynastique ? Comment, aussi, ne pas être impressionné par cette deuxième révolution pacifique en l’espace d’un mois, renversant des présidents au pouvoir depuis trois décennies, autoritaires et corrompus, protégés et cajolés [cajoler: 爱抚;奉承,谄媚] par les puissances occidentales pour leur rôle de rempart [rempart (n.m.): 城墙,围墙,壁垒,防御] contre l’islamisme radical ?  La Tunisie avait pris tout le monde par surprise, mais les experts avaient mis en garde contre la théorie des dominos en soulignant que ce pays ne pesait pas lourd [重的,沉重的,笨重的]  géopolitiquement, que l’Egypte c’était autre chose… Rien n’y a fait, les mêmes causes ont produit les mêmes effets, et le plus grand pays arabe, celui qui a toujours donné le « la », a basculé plus vite encore que la petite Tunisie.Ces révolutions ne ressemblent à aucune autre.  Pas de leader charismatique, pas d’organisation secrète, pas d’armée clandestine…Mais plutôt des groupes sur Facebook, des tweets, des vidéos sur YouTube, et beaucoup d’idéalisme d’une jeunesse qui aspire à vivre autrement.  Les réseaux sociaux n’ont pas « fait » la révolution , ils ont permis à une génération de s’inventer un espace de liberté virtuelle qu’elle n’a eu de cesse de vouloir faire passer dans le monde réel.

Two questions remain in the wake of the Egyptians’ exploit: What happens to the tyrant once he leaves? And what will happen in other Arab countries, of which none, absolutely none, can remain immune to the shock of events in Tunis and Cairo in particular?

…No country is immune to the cocktail that caused the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt: a thirst for freedom of youth on the world, a rejection of nepotism, corruption, censorship, the system’s in-built dumbing down…There remains the geopolitical impact of this huge event….which even shook all dictatorships, all authoritarian countries, regardless of their latitude and culture, beyond the Arab world and Islam.

J’en veux pour preuve ce magnifique message some lu surTwitter, par dessus les continents, les langues et les cultures. C’est un dissident chinois, dont l’avatar est orné d’un ruban ja

une en l’honneur du prix Nobel de la paix emprisonné Liu Xiaobo , qui retweete (retransmet) un message de Wael Ghonim , le « héros » de la jeunesse égyptienne, l’homme qui a fait basculer [摇摆;翻倒,翻转] la situation avec son intervention télévisée à sa libération de détention.

For proof of this beautiful message which transcends continents, languages and cultures, we need only read Twitter.There a Chinese dissident [the ubiquitous Michael Anti], whose avatar bears a yellow ribbon in honor of Nobel Peace imprisoned Liu Xiaobo , retweets a message from Wael Ghonim, the “hero” of youth Egyptian man who tipped the situation with his televised speech to his release from detention. His message (on the screenshot below) is clear:

« Les vrais héros sont les jeunes Egyptiens de la place Tahrir et du reste de l’Egypte. Ce message est devenu universel.

“The real heroes are the young Egyptians in Tahrir Square and the rest of Egypt. ”  This message has become universal.


As if to prove its own sense of apprehension, Xinhua covers this huge story with a five sentence press release.

Time Magazine Asia has a story on China’s strangely spotty coverage of the Egypt protests, featuring plenty of quotes from my friend Jeremy Goldkorn at Danwei.org; the China Elections and Governance page has several well-thought-out essays on the same topic.

Meanwhile, in my own current North American backyard, some prominent people have taken the opportunity to piss on the whole proceedings.  Although (like the more cerebral but as ubiquitous Thomas Friedman) most of his faux-prophetic work is neither worth listening to nor reading, occasionally it is good to get an earful of what Glenn Beck, Zeitgeist-man of the paranoid right wing, is promoting.  Today, Beck is peddling a wholesale historical revisionism whereby George W. Bush’s call for sweeping democratic change across the Middle East is completely forgotten and Barack Obama’s alleged “community organizing” strategy to turn the whole world into an Islamo-Socialist state — replete with brainwashed young footsoldiers — is placed at the root, yes, the root! of the democratic revolution in Egypt.   (Here, for the record, is what Obama said today about Egypt, calling for true democracy and encouraging young Egyptians to start businesses.)   In comparison to Mr. Beck (no advanced degrees here!) and his paranoid ravings, Xinhua’s coverage of all of this appears to be positively tactful, not to mention more accurate.  And that is saying quite a lot.


  1. Yes. This has been a rivetting and massively uplifting event and it was accurately nailed by Al Jazeera from day one. They certainly captured the synergy and exuberance, but I also recommend their contrasting Syrian piece:


    What amuses me is the weasel media stuff being spouted by Israel. It’s a wonder they don’t offer Mubarak political asylum, after their decades of dishonest negotiation with the Palestinians. Love their warnings about Egypt being subject to outside influences eg US.

    As for who is next? Algeria is a prime candidate, but cant see it due to their brutal mukhabart govt, and anyway I’ve already gone on record and indentified Berlusconi’s Italy.

    And Adam, I can understand why you waxed so eloquently about the countryside. Washington State – home of high-end hydro.

    Had two snow covered winters in Korea and can still recall great drives with a Korean friend up roads, which petered out at the end of valleys without a house in sight and just neat stubbly rice fields waitng for spring planting.

  2. It would take a heart of stone to remain unmoved by the Egyptian revolution. It’s certainly meant to be one – “we have our freedom back” was a line I’ve frequently heard on BBC coverage, and I wondered about the last word in the line. Which freedom is now back? The one from the days of Nasser? From the end of colonialism? From the days of Sadat? Had freedom been gone right from the first day of Mubarak’s rule?

    So far, the army has played a positive role, too. After all, they plainly said that they would not use violence against the protesters. Too early to tell if they will remain the army of the people – but their role has been crucial, too.

    And I’m wondering if Mubarak intends to stay in Egypt. If he does, he may soon be in court. I hope Egypt won’t stain its revolution with the blood of their former president, his clan’s, or his proxies’, as Romania did in 1989. Wouldn’t be a good omen.

    Anyway – today is a beautiful day.

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