Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Crowd Made Me Do It - Thank God!

The precise moments in which grievances explode into action are difficult to predict. The formula seems to be some combination of the magnitude and breadth of grievance across a population, a succession of concrete events that bring the discontent to a simmer, and then one or more precipitating critical actions or events that bring the simmer to a full-fledged boil.

The sequence of contributing events is much easier to see in hindsight. In the case of the famed (first) Palestinian intifada (1987-1993), one would not have predicted that it was to be Dec 7, 1987 when the explosion occurred. But, piecing it together, it was easy to see the immediate precipitating event (the killing of 4 Gazans on their way back from work in Israel) as well as the accumulated series of events - including other moments of violence but also less dramatic, though potent, events such as the Arab League ignoring the Palestinian agenda at its conference.

For Egypt, concrete moments of activism have been occurring regularly for the past 3 or 4 years. Indeed, even if one just focuses on the role of social media (e.g., Facebook) it is apparent that it was making its mark years before this January's revolution(see excellent coverage by Frontline).

Neither was the specific date of the revolution's inception a mystery. Jan 15 had been a regular protest day for years. The magic of the revolution rather was the magnitude of the participation on that day. This magic had several parts. First, clearly the facility of social media in reaching scores of thousands of people was instrumental, and, by 2011, followership of various sites numbered in the scores of thousands. Second, formalized advanced planning - including recruitment of civil disobedience experts from outside - escalated the degree and effectiveness of preparations for the Jan 15 demonstration.

Critically, for many younger and older Egyptians, the catalyst that turned their attention and involvement, hoever, was the very magnitude of participation in that first day. Apparently, they have felt so severly repressed (and incapacitated) for so long that it took the drama of mass participation to give a sense of confidence that anything could change.

Consider Hamdi, one young 21 year-old from the Cairo suburb of Giza, viewing on television the mass demonstrations of the first day shook him dramatically and fundamentally changed his future focus. He was already well under way to emigrate from Egypt. The inertia had convinced him even at such a young age that there was no future in Egypt. He studied Greek, made contact with a Greek girl, and was in the throes of planning to move to be with her there. But seeing the masses on Jan 15 turned him - convinced him that maybe there would be hope. It was as if he saw evidence that his people and nation - who he clearly honored and loved - may not afterall be permanent pawns of dictators and fate.

In him, and others, one senses a deeply gratifying astonishment, a marvel, that Egypt can arise from the dust and drudgery, and chart its own honorable and dignified future course. Hamdi will be part of that - from Egypt. He is no longer going to Greece.

"Welcome to the NEW Egypt."

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