The Eighteenth Day

by Jon L. Denby

Photo by Ed Ou for The New York Times

In Tahrir Square, on the eighteenth day of a popular uprising, a man held a sign aloft that read, “Mubarak, if you are Pharaoh, we are all Moses.’’ That seemed to capture the very essence of what will go down in history as one of the greatest revolutions of the Middle East. The Egyptian people, under the boot of this Pharaoh for over thirty years, finally led themselves out of slavery to freedom.

It was a true popular revolt, involving all members of Egyptian society. The poor, the rich, socialists, the Muslim Brotherhood, secularists, professionals, working class, and the young and old alike, all took part in deposing the Pharaoh. And it is important to restate that they achieved this themselves, without the aid of the international community, and certainly not help from the United States.

As far as revolutions go, this one was relatively bloodless. Instead, the people used their brains, technology, and nonviolent tactics to achieve what many believed to be the impossible. Their overthrow of the Pharaoh was also very quick. They achieved in eighteen days what took some revolutions years and years of war, tears, and suffering to accomplish. The triumph of the Egyptian people, against all odds, is truly an inspiration to all who aspire to the ideals of democracy and liberty.

There will undoubtedly be some in the United States who will claim that our invasion of Iraq is what eventually led the people of Egypt to overthrow their dictator. Nothing could be more false. The Egyptian Revolution, in fact, is a direct repudiation of the imperial theory that democracy can be imposed on a people from the outside. It is the people of Egypt, and their iron will alone, that caused this revolution. And it is their determination that will make this revolution succeed.

Success, however, is by no means guaranteed. This revolution is not over; it is only the very beginning, and nobody can tell how or when it will all end. The Egyptian Army has seized control of the state’s power, promising to return control to civilian authorities as soon as possible. That same promise has been made many times during revolutions, and broken many times.

Since the United States reacted with weakness and equivocation during the uprising, it must now react strongly in insisting that the Egyptian Army cede control to the people at the earliest possible moment. New, genuine, and legitimate elections need to be held and overseen by an independent body from the Arab states and the international community. Anything less is unacceptable.

President Obama also needs to take this historical opportunity to push for change across the rest of the Middle East. An opportunity like this will not come again for a very long time. He needs to put the other Pharaohs on notice that their own people, if their grievances are not addressed, may soon follow the path of the Tunisian and Egyptian people. And, most importantly, should there be another popular uprising in another Middle Eastern country, Obama must see to it that the United States offers full support to the revolutionaries.

I will say again: this is an historical opportunity to change the Middle East for the better. For far too long the people of this region have suffered under tyrannical and corrupt governments. The United States, specifically, has supported this status quo in the name of “stability”—primarily stability for American access to oil. If the Egyptian Revolution is successful, and causes sweeping change across the Middle East, then the people of the region will finally have a hopeful future. Furthermore, if this revolution is successful then the dark vision that people like Osama bin Laden have for the region, and the world, will be vanquished once and for all.

Therefore, the struggle of the Egyptian people is our struggle too. America stands to gain or loose as much as the Egyptians do. If they succeed in building a genuine democracy whose revolutionary fire spreads across the Middle East, that is a huge victory for America; conversely, if they fail, that is a catastrophic failure for America too.

It took eighteen days to depose the Pharaoh, but it will take much longer to build a new nation based on justice, liberty, and democracy. For the Egyptians the struggle has only begun. America must now help nurture this New Egypt by supporting the aspirations, ingenuity, and determination of its people. Let America and Egypt join hands in this journey forward and send this message to all other Pharaohs in the Middle East and beyond: we are all Moses.