On Monday night, I listened to Wael Ghonim talk about the Egyptian revolution last year. He was the Google engineer who created a Facebook page which helped ignite the entire thing, and became a de facto symbol of the people’s revolt. I learned a few lessons, which I’d like to pass on.
There is a tipping point, in which everyone was ready to sacrifice everything. Wael and all the Egyptians fighting against the regime had reached the point of no return; there was no going back. Watching the Tunisians topple their leader gave them much hope; overnight the whispers of quiet dissent was replaced by that crazy sense of optimism which preceded great things. It wouldn’t be enough to topple the dictator Mubarak, to replace one bad leader with another bad leader. Mubarak couldn’t realize that the people desired to have that choice: the democratic freedom of selecting one’s leaders, to end the systemic corruption of the regime, etc.
And to their downfall, the government underestimated the power of social media. For all of the legitimate critiques of Facebook, I’ve become to see it not quite unlike marriage or religion: It is what one makes of it. I might not need to know what you did last weekend, but if people can use the internet as an organizing tool to mobilize political actions in real-time? I’ll fist-bump that, everyday.
And so they marched, a wave of discontent sweeping over the Middle East. The peace is far from won, Egypt’s future is unclear as ever. Not long ago, a riot at the soccer stadium killed more people in one day than any other day during the revolution. The people are still struggling to balance the necessities of security with the rule of law, and Ghonim is especially wary of his people’s challenge. Revolutions are ultimately judged not by what we destroy, but by what we can build. Whether a liberal democracy or a vibrant economy, a prosperous Egypt remains an unrealized dream for now.
However, the fatalism has been broken. That pessimistic apathy over 3 decades, to know that one’s voice was irrelevant against the strains of corruption and illegitimate rule. I take Wael’s story as proof to show that faith with action can overturn the most pessimistic of situations; our destinies are not written until we choose so. Despite all things, I have much to be hopeful for and I wish the Egyptian people all the best in their uncertain future.