They did it.
After 18 days of mass protest, the people of Egypt overthrew a 30-year dictatorship and opened the door to a real chance at freedom, dignity, and genuine democracy.
Like millions worldwide, I sat glued to my computer these past two and a half weeks, watching reports of the protests. So I shed tears of joy shortly after waking today, elated at the images of millions in Cairo euphoric over the news that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down.
Egypt does not yet have a democracy. The military has taken over, and the nation’s newfound freedom is tenuous at best.
But the country has taken a giant leap toward liberty and justice. And judging by the resolve, the intelligence, the courage and the basic sense of decency I have seen demonstrated on the streets of Egypt since January 25, I believe Egyptians will succeed on this great quest.
Yet this is about far more than Egypt. Interviewed on the Arab satellite news station Al Jazeera today, a spokesman for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood said this was not only a victory for every Egyptian – Muslim, Christian, and otherwise – it was a victory for the entire Middle East and indeed all of humanity.
He is right. The events of the past two and half weeks – and the brave men and women behind them – have taught us a great deal about what it means to be alive, about what truly matters, and most importantly, about what is possible on a planet in distress.
They have taught us that Muslims and Christians can co-exist and even support one another in one of the most volatile regions on the planet. That moderation and cooperation are, indeed, possible.
They have shown that men and women, young and old, rich and poor can all come together in one of the most stratified places on the globe. And that they can be supported, and rooted on, by people around the world who will most likely never even meet them.
They have demonstrated that ultimately, our security will not be ensured by repression. It must rest instead on justice and democracy.
And they have reminded us of the words Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke more than 40 years ago and US President Barack Obama reiterated today: that, indeed, “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.”
Given our recent history as a species, it can be easy to feel pessimistic. From Tienanmen Square to the Concentration Camps where many of my family members perished, humanity can exhibit a shocking brutality. There is indeed a dark side to our species.
But there is a noble, courageous, and beautiful side to humanity as well. The people of Egypt – especially the young people – have reminded us what history has demonstrated time and time again, from Selma to Johannesburg, from Prague to Santiago: that despite all odds, where there is hope and courage, justice – and the People Power behind it – can, and often does, prevail.
The people of Egypt were up against overwhelming odds: a well-organized police state; lies and information black-outs; violence and torture. They were up against a Western World that did not stand strongly on their behalf, and powerful Middle Eastern Governments from Tel-Aviv to Riyadh that pushed for their failure.
More than anything, I imagine, they were up against their own doubts. And after 30 years of despotic rule, who could blame them?
In the end, however, hope triumphed over despair, and courage won out over fear. In 18 short yet stunning days, the people of Egypt overthrew one of the most powerful dictatorships on the planet.
That example will do more than nourish a new democracy there. It will feed the spirits of 200 million people in the Middle East, and tens of millions more across North Africa, who yearn to be free. It will feed the will of 77 million Iranians. And it will feed the souls and the resolve of every human who dreams of a better world.
This evening, I have hope for Egypt. And I have hope for humanity.