The popular uprising in Egypt is an earth-shaking event – what happens here could determine the course of the region and thus the world for the foreseeable future. But where did it all begin? Some point to Tunisia. Others point to Facebook. Still others remark that this has been brewing for decades, the spirit of revolution bequeathed by the grandfathers and great-grandfathers of this generation suddenly stirring from its fitful sleep. True, these sources have played their part, in fact, I believe we’re witnessing the world’s first Internet revolution, but this movement truly began as a popular demand for human dignity.
Early last year Khaled Said, a twenty-eight-year-old Egyptian blogger, was dragged from a net café in the coastal city of Alexandria and thrown in the back of a police truck. He was then taken to a residential building where, according to several eyewitnesses, the officers gave him a merciless beating. Despite his protests and pleas, the officers continued their work, repeatedly slamming his head against the concrete walls and stairs. Hours later, they dumped his mangled, lifeless body in the same street. His crime? Posting a video of officers dividing up the spoils after a drug bust. The charges? None were ever levied against him. The police autopsy states that he died of asphyxiation after swallowing a sack of marijuana. The two officers responsible for his murder were later charged with using “excessive force” and suspended.
This incident of blatant abuse of power and disregard for human life did not, like so many others before, go unnoticed. Through Internet media, Khaled’s story spread and his image became a clarion call to Egyptians, young and old, to demand recognition of their eroding human rights and to question the necessity of the country’s 30-year-old emergency law which permits the authorities to arrest, detain, and torture any citizen without filing charges or presenting evidence. (Sound familiar, America?) As the year passed, similar incidents occurred, and by January 25th, a national holiday in honor of the police force, a massive simultaneous march through Egyptian cities was planned using a Facebook page titled, “We Are All Khaled Said.” The number of men and women who defied the emergency law and hit the streets of Alexandria, Cairo, Suez, and other cities throughout the country exceeded one million, overwhelming authorities and astonishing even the organizers.
Though somewhat shaken by the state terrorism that has killed dozens, wounded hundreds, and imprisoned thousands, those who began this revolution appear more determined than ever. Enforced with thousands upon thousands of supporters demanding the ouster of a corrupt regime, after fifteen days the youth of Egypt still occupy Midan Tahrir (“Liberation Square” in English), the symbol of their hopes and dreams for the future of Egypt. And after fifteen days, the population at large is beginning to see this youth movement as something worth standing up for, something worth speaking out for, something worth living for.
Often in American media, reporting tends to focus solely on how international events affect us Americans. Confined to our own continent in the new world, we seldom find it worth our time to sympathize with the plight of the old. So, why should this struggle concern us? How, besides a rise in gas prices, will it shape life in the USA? Our own Dr. King in his letter from a Birmingham prison once wrote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In a global society, there must be universal recognition of human rights; else we risk nullifying, or worse, losing our own.