One Tuesday afternoon in 1981, while Taslin and I played with what I remember were Barbies, cutting old socks making them into sweater dresses, we heard a wail from the top floor of our apartment building on Teutonia Avenue. I never heard anyone cry like that before. Taslin’s mother ran down the stairs to our apartment and into the arms of my mother, weeping. Anwar Sadat had been killed. I was seven years old. Taslin was five. The rest of the afternoon and evening, I recall, involved me watching Taslin’s mother balled tight on our sofa watching the news, video montages of Sadat’s life. Sadat shaking hands with Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter ran on a continuous loop. What Taslin’s mother told me of Sadat was that she had hoped with the changes he was making, she’d be able to go home someday. She wanted Taslin, who was born in America, to someday return to the country of her forebearers, and if she chose to, live as a free and modern woman there as she would here.
Watching these developments in Egypt today, I’m surprised to find how invested I had been in their story all along. The live feed from Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel ran video of Liberation (Tahrir) Square’s jubilant masses, and I couldn’t stop my tears. Tomorrow, the real work of rebuilding a nation begins. And from this distance, many questions remain in terms of how this process will actually work. The Egyptian military who has acted as an arbiter between the protesters and the now fallen regime throughout these eighteen days (even protecting protesters from the Basij-like throngs/mobs of men last week) assumes control over the nation. No one is certain of what this may mean for the Egyptian people just yet and hopefully, this transitional period will maintain its peaceful nature.
Again, Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech runs like a tape in my head since the developments in Tunisia last month, and now today in Egypt:
Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere… So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.
It was prescient then. Delivered just a week before the Iranian elections, and subsequent revolution, it was a signal to me that a new era was forthcoming. It’s worth a re-read today.
Tomorrow, we’ll be watching Algeria.