What the Egyptian Revolution Means

Michael Brownstein
Reality Sandwich

Egypt’s protests display incredible solidarity. © AFP Pedro Ugarte

We want to show the world that we can take care of our country, and we are doing it without the government or the police.”–Khalid Toufik, 40, dentist in Alexandria

Everyone used to say that there is no hope, that no one will turn up in the street, that the people are passive. But the barrier of fear was broken!”–Asmaa Malifour, 26, activist in Cairo

I am not socialist, I am not a liberal, I am not an Islamist. I am an Egyptian woman rejecting injustice and corruption in my country.”–Mariam Soliman, 28, school counselor in Cairo

You feel like everyone is walking on his own, speaking for himself because there’s no group that represents us.”–Mohammed Nagi, 30, protester in Cairo

The events in Egypt are beyond breathtaking, that a people so long oppressed have by themselves risen up to cast off their oppressors. Surging through the streets in uncountable thousands, burning police stations to the ground, convincing army troops of their commonality, spontaneously organizing themselves to protect property, direct traffic, and deal with emergencies, smoking out Mubarak’s attempt to capitalize on the inevitable looting and violence, they are revealing to the world a new national template: self-organization. A template we know operates in biology and ecology but have never before seen realized on such a scale among human beings.

Because above all, beyond struggling to get rid of Mubarak and free themselves from their addiction to American money and armaments, the Egyptian people have glimpsed the possilbility that they can do all this without falling back on traditional political parties. Even as an idea, even as an ideal, this is the most extraordinary aspect of what is taking place. A movement born out of youth and led by youth, without recourse to professional leaders, the Egyptian revolution presents us with the possibility of living in an entirely new way, of circumventing a 6000-year-old model in which “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

ElBaradei, the Muslim Brotherhood, the oligarchy, Army generals, splinter parties: the Egyptian people are getting the extraordinary notion that they can survive perfectly well without them.

Talk about a mythic moment, not only for Egyptians but for the rest of us. Whether or not such an outpouring of virginal, never-before-seen energy lasts, whether or not an enduring way is found to escape the age-old hieracrchy of business as usual, with people free to organize their lives completely “outside the Beltway,” for the first time such a possibility has been burned into our consciousness on a national scale, related to but beyond the self-organizing experiments of intentional communities. As such, what’s going on in Egypt is unprecedented.

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