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February 10, 2011 / mike54martin

What We Can Learn From Egypt

Watching events unfold in Egypt over the past few weeks one cannot be amazed by the courage of the people in trying to fix their country. It’s not quite clear as to what the final outcome will be but one thing is certain: Egypt and probably a good chunk of the Arab world will never be the same again. It is interesting and more than a little dismaying to see the reaction of the Americans: How do we protect our interests and the Canadian government: Don’t upset the status quo too much.

The good news is that the protesters in the streets don’t really care what they think, except in their hope that the Americans will not allow Mubarak’s goons to kill them with the arms that they have supplied and paid for. But in the midst of this life-changing crisis for Egyptians it is useful for us in the West to take a step back and consider what we can learn from the situation in Egypt. Usually it is the West trying to teach ‘those people” what to do or how to live. Now the tables may truly been turned.

For those of us interested in positive social change here’s a few of my thoughts on what we should be thinking about:

1. The young shall lead us

The revolution in Egypt is not being led by the traditional opposition, whether that is the Muslim Brotherhood or the trade unions, both are latecomers to the party. It is being organized and led by young people who have seen a glimpse of a better life and against enormous political and personal risk decided to go ahead and try. In some ways they felt like they had no choice, but it’s a lot different to go to a protest where there is a very real possibility of getting shot, abducted or jailed than it is easy to join thousands of others on Parliament Hill where the police actually block traffic to let you pass.

2. The women shall be at the forefront

It is equally remarkable that at the head of every major protest in the Arab world whether in Iran, Tunisia, or Egypt, women are not only visibly present but active and vocal participants. Even moreso than the young men I think they have realized that their future is bleak without change. One can hardly imagine how difficult it must be in these societies for women who face challenges from religious fanatics and conservative families to actually show up and speak up. One feels that they are prepared to take these risks and face these challenges to not only free themselves but their mothers, sisters, and daughters. The ebb in the feminist movement in the West has severely damaged our capacity to affect change.

3. If we believe, and take action, we can make change happen

The protesters had no idea what to expect as they started to gather in the square in Cairo. But they believed fervently that something had to happen and they were prepared to take action to make their dreams a reality. Our approach in the West has been to believe and then hope that change will happen. We kinda missed out on the action piece which despite our whining and blogging doesn’t really change a thing.

4. Social Media is a great tool but nothing beats action

Many will point to Twitter and Facebook as the reasons why these protests were successful and there is no doubt that social media is a great vehicle for communication, information, and simply passing the word about events. But all the Tweets in the world could never have made the events over the past couple of weeks happen. Without tens of thousands of people actually responding to the call for action by taking to the streets there is no way that Mubarak would have given an inch. He tried to react by turning off the Internet but by then the people were already on the streets and they weren’t going back.

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