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Egypt Defies All

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EGYPT LABOR UNREST
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February 11, 2011 is a monumental day in human history. The resilience and resolve of the Egyptian people have shown the world how a revolutionary movement can rise up to sweep all that lies in its path and create a new reality. I understand that this sounds like hyperbole, but the past two weeks were not exactly a time for conservative assessment.

With the resignation of Mubarak and the passing down of all authority to the military, the people of Egypt have forced their will against all odds and in a manner quite unexpected to most prognosticators and analysts. The revolutionaries, from computer savvy techies to bus drivers, and from housekeepers to engineers, defied colossal obstacles to achieve this decisive victory.

They defied a deeply entrenched and corrupt police system that was designed to dehumanize and instill fear in them. They defied 30 years of Emergency Law, which incriminated them in even their most inalienable rights. They defied competing intelligence agencies actively concocting ways to undermine any opposition. They defied systematic torture and brutality, delivered by baton, tear gas, rubber bullet, live round, and the whip-wielding camel-rider.

The Egyptian revolution defied a matrix of regional political interests from Israeli pressure and Saudi intransigence to US equivocation. The unyielding strength of the protesters forced the US administration to undergo one of the most startling U-turns in diplomatic expression in many years. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the Egyptian government was "stable" and Vice President Biden asserted that Mubarak was not a "dictator." The tone would change dramatically as the Egyptian people who poured into the streets and liberated Tahrir Square in their millions rendered the realities on the ground. For once, the Egyptian street, usually either ridiculed or lamented, erupted in a show of force unparalleled in the nation's history.

Most of all, the revolution defied definition. It was practically impossible to attribute the movement to any clear singular ideological thrust besides supporting social justice. The revolution was not advocating communism nor was it pushing for further neoliberalization. It was neither an Islamic revolution nor a secular one. The infamous Muslim Brotherhood was neither a trendsetter nor absent in the revolution's development. Even the Iranian Republic which saw an opportunity to benefit from the Egyptian revolution's criticism of American
complicity, could not convince the revolutionaries or anyone else that this was an Islamic movement. The revolution continued despite the world conspiring against it. Only the Danish Prime Minister called for Mubarak to step down before the official announcement came through.

The Egyptian revolution may have trumped both Malcolm Gladwell's reluctant and depressing realism about the power of social media to create change and Clay Shirky's hyperactive enthusiasm and technological determinism. While the revolution may have been mobilized on Facebook and Twitter, it was sustained by millions who had never touched a computer in their lives. While it was the online activists that built communication bridges to the world, it was during the government-imposed 5-day internet blackout that the size of demonstrations swelled significantly.

This is a revolution that refuses to submit or conform to tradition and has resisted every kind of co-option or tarnishing. The protesters could not be accused of being radical, foreign-trained operatives. They could not be accused of being unruly mobs of violent thugs. They could not be accused of being members of an indoctrinated group. Despite the regime's stubborn attempts to undermine the revolution, it remained largely faceless and universal.

Despite the role of Mohammed ElBaradei, Ayman Nour, the Facebook superhero Wael Ghonim, and other notables in fomenting support for the sustained demonstrations, the revolution asserted its independence, its democratic values and its disinterest in the cult of megalomania. It became clear from the outset and remained the case throughout, that this revolution wished to be independent from any political force that may hijack it and undermined any glamorization of heroes and leaders. It is a revolution that seeks the support of the military but is opposed to military rule...

A revolution started largely by a population that just a few weeks ago showed their solidarity with a simple click of a "Like" on a Facebook page. Today they have become the nucleus of a powerful movement that has shattered all barriers before the Egyptian people, forcing even the most powerful institutions to buckle at name like Khaled Said. In just 17 days, the Egyptian revolution defied everything from tyranny and imperialism to patriarchy, tribalism, sexism and
ageism.

It even defied the natural order of revolutions. Even at its height, it did not attempt to take over the main institutions of government and asset its triumph over the state. But rather it simply asserted the stubbornness of human perseverance and liberty in the face of unbearable pain and agony. It did not try to undo the constitutional order with disorder but rather respected the need to demand change and expected that its show of force would be enough to
guarantee the legitimacy of these demands. It ebbed and flowed from crescendo to trough with every call to action from the youth to every demoralizing and condescending speech from Mubarak other government officials. The world has swayed back and forth with the protesters, each time taking a deep breath before each day or rage, redemption, departure, march of millions etc.

Either way you look at it, the story of the Egyptian revolution is exceptional. Whether you get to it through anecdotes and testimonies or through the mind-boggling numbers of protesters. The number of demonstrators in Cairo alone exceeded a million on more than three occasions and the total number of protesters across the country may have reached 8 million on one occasion -- 10 percent of the nation's population. These are numbers that eclipse both the French and the Russian Revolutions. The story of the revolution is a colossal media story. It is Katrina, the Chilean Miners, and the fall of the Berlin Wall all in one incredible amalgam of intrigue that reaffirms the triumph of humanity.

For more than two weeks, we have listened to reluctant skeptics for too long about the unlikelihood of this day, but, alas, it has come. They must admit their egregious failure to define, chart, dissect, and predict one of the largest single-nation popular uprisings in history. They must admit they underestimated the most exuberant manifestation of the long clichéd notion of "people power" in our lifetime. The Egyptian revolution has humbled many an analyst and inspired many an observer. From learned academics to leaders of global superpowers, all have had to mince their words for fear that their prophecies may falter. Egypt has resuscitated the utility of civil disobedience and revived the old once-tired mantra of "viva la revolución."