Free at last

The breaking news today that President Hosni Mubarak is stepping down in Egypt came unexpectedly, to me at least:

“In these difficult circumstances, the country is passing by. President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down…to step down as president of Egypt, and he has decided that the higher counsel of the armed forces will lead the nation.”

Former President Hosni Mubarak

Thirty minutes prior to discovering the breaking news banner on CNN’s website in class, Professor Kennedy had finished a presentation about social media’s role in Egypt. On Day 18 of unrest in Egypt, Mubarak has handed his three-decade rule to the military. There are few days when we can witness history. I’m sure I will always remember where I was when I heard the news. It’s a kind of excitement I can’t describe.

Optimistically, today, Feb. 11, marks the 21st anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail. The anti-apartheid activist was imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years, and released on Feb. 11, 1990. Just as many parts of the world have watched and waited for Mubarak to resign, Mandela’s imprisonment, release and inauguration were also once important world events. Every nation was drawn into the effort to bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa. And we’re still hearing about Mandela now. Many media organizations recently covered the story of the 92-year-old Mandela’s hospital treatment for an acute respiratory infection. The world found out that he returned home on Jan. 28.

Nelson Mandela

Since his imprisonment, Mandela became a symbol of liberation and personal commitment. He was part of the transition into black political leadership in South Africa. He called for equal rights and the right to vote. (“One man, one vote,” as I mentioned in a previous post about democracy.) But, after Mandela’s release, South Africa’s lasting constitution wasn’t finalized until 1996.

The events surrounding Mandela and Mubarak are similar, not in their leadership roles, but in the countries they are associated with. South Africa’s transition to the right to vote wasn’t implemented immediately after Mandela was released from jail.

But, transitions are different in every country. As for Egypt, there is most likely going to be a long changeover period. The state needs systematic planning for a transitional government.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:

“There are risks with the transition to democracy…Transition to democracy will only work if it is deliberate, inclusive and transparent.”

Taking to the streets and creating an uprising of hundreds of thousands of people for 18 days won’t always change the world. Luckily for Egypt, it has transformed the country – thus far. The Egyptians’ protests were an initial step against not only Mubarak, but the entire world. The international community watched: If police had abused demonstrators, foreign aid would have been cut quickly.

Mubarak’s resignation is a momentous event for Egyptians – and the world. At the same time, the news sends shivers up people’s spines because, if the transition to democracy doesn’t happen properly, there could be chaos. Egypt isn’t out of the deep waters yet.

It will be interesting to watch how democracy unfolds in Egypt. Is the military what the Egyptians want to rule the country? What will the future look like? Who will be in charge? What goal is the country working toward? Although these questions are unanswerable today, the wheel of democracy can only move forward, even if it progresses at a slow pace. I don’t think anything but genuine democracy will function in Egypt now.

Egyptians were tired of a government that didn’t provide them with their own voices. Echoing what President Barack Obama said, today does indeed belong to the people of Egypt. Keep watch on Egypt, and on the rest of the Arab world.

First inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Second inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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