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Adel Iskandar

Adel Iskandar

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The Gravity of Pharaohs

Posted: 01/28/11 06:18 AM ET

The dizzyingly rapid demise of Mubarak's exceptionally stable regime is a surprise to even the most seasoned analysts and avid observers of Egypt. For all those who speculated that Egypt was not Tunisia, who paraded that its populace was notoriously apathetic, that the Arab world's most populous nation had an aversion to revolution, or that the cowardly 80 plus million had feared Mubarak more than their own starved bellies--the last couple of days have been a humbling time for such baseless prognostications.

The government, with its brutal and abhorrent actions against protests on January 25th, has lost the last bit of legitimacy it may have possessed. The level of disrespect that the state has for its people is beyond caste-like. Treating its citizens as clients to it benevolent caretaking, it has managed them with impunity for generations. Hence, the level of violence should come as no surprise to anyone. Since 1973, the government has decided that by forgoing the possibility of war in the foreseeable future, its conscription would be steered toward building the largest police force in the region. Egypt had effectively created an army whose sole task is to suppress, torture, subdue and oppress its own people.

This configuration results in a government that constantly chases an opposition. The dissidents are the mice in a cat and mouse game. But on Tuesday, the Egyptian mouse woke up and looked itself in the mirror only to discover it is an elephant. In Egypt today, a large, amorphous, young, dynamic, diverse, multi-denominational movement comprises practically every swath of the population, barring the few that benefit from the bloated kleptocracy. Instead the tables have turned and the colossus threatens to stamp out the paper tiger of the state.

As this article goes to press, the Egyptian abomination of a regime will have completely shut down all internet access in the country and most telephone service, turning Egypt into a communication black hole--worse than North Korea. With the flip of a switch, the country's Internet Freedom Index went from 45 (0 being totally free) to 100. The government broke world records in internet censorship by creating an absurdly surreal situation. By shutting down all forms of online communication amounts to the largest block in the history of the internet.

Without knowing it, the Egyptians are testing Clay Shirky's theories on social networks, Mark Zuckerberg's claim of Facebook's power, the logic of Twitter revolutions, and YouTube's slogans of "Broadcast Yourself." The strength of the internet generation is being tested to the absolute limit. Just minutes before the supposed eruption of the revolution which hopes to bring down the regime once and for all, the people, just a few days after feeling a true semblance of common destiny, are severed from one another. Not only is communication between them now a luxury, they are now living on an isolated island--a fortune not unlike that of Robinson Crusoe.

This makes Egypt the only true grounds for the ultimate test of all media effects speculations, game theories, and social movements hypotheses. Can a virtual revolution that germinated online overthrow a regime in the absence of the portal on which it was built? Can a generation trained to Tweet their dissent function without their nifty gadgets? Can they trust one another's commitment to a common cause to go out into the eerily quiet streets of Egyptian cities and find their fellow compatriots also on hand to fulfill their destiny? Can they function as a network without an originator, organizer, administrator etc?

Today is the beginning of a dream for generations of Egyptians. Regardless of the outcome in the coming hours, days, weeks, or months, history has indeed been made. Call it the Lotus Uprising, the Bread Intifada or Anger Revolution, clichés are inconsequential. What matters is that despite not being able to witness what is happening in Egypt now, we can be sure it is historic! Where this takes Egypt is of little consequence at this moment, for it has already delivered them from abyss in just 48 hours. As the severity of the moment sends Egypt's last tyrant and his cronies into freefall, we must rest assured that a regime this irrational is a regime in eclipse. It should be drastically clear to anyone who once courted the Cairo felons that they must abandon ship now or risk losing any semblance of dignity.

Egypt's day of reckoning is upon us. Mubarak's government has committed major blunders in its almost three decades in power. But none will be more costly than its outrageous and vulgar attempt to silence the whole nation. For a president who has flaunted himself as the advocate of free press and freedom of opinion, his government is now parading in the nude while hiding behind a media blackout. But this nudity cannot be concealed for long. Even a besieged, embattled, obliterated Gaza had its eyewitnesses, its cameras, and its Goldstones. The day of reckoning for the regime leaves it with little time to decide between on one of two options. Either to retract its stubbornness and make irreversible concessions to its people on matters that are inalienably rightful and unquestionably just -- or consciously lay its own head on the guillotine and pull the chord.

It is clear that the regime will not go away on its own accord and will hang on by the skin of its teeth. But on Tuesday, Egypt's youth shattered the barriers of apathy, fear, and disregard, leaving Mubarak's circle toothless at a time of their greatest challenge. And as Egyptians roar with anger and chant in unison the oft-repeated Tunisian slogan "The people want the fall of the regime," Mubarak is holed up in an undisclosed location and utterly speechless. For a population so accustomed to his pontification on every occasion--from Army Day to visits from Monrovian ministers--a silent pharaoh is a fallen pharaoh. His people spent much of Tuesday tearing his image, desecrating his obelisks. And while he is so accustomed to arresting foreign perpetrators and banned opposition, today he has declared all Egyptians are enemies and adversaries and is besieging them in their homes, in their country.

But he has only hurt himself. A regime that arrests and beats its own government media personnel is one that knows not its friend from its foe and has lost its bearings. But this may be because the regime has actually lost all of its friends. Mubarak has made it impossible for compatriots to remain steadfastly friendly. The US State Department is trying to dodge the bullet by offering mixed signals to avoid a foot in the mouth, and may actually be recalculating what is in their national interests in the coming future. The least politicized of Egypt's elite came out in droves to the Tuesday protests. And now with Facebook down, some 20 million Egyptian internet addicts in the country have nothing further to distract them from revolting.

A new beginning became clear to me when I realized that the national paper Al-Ahram ran a front-page story on the morning after Tuesday the day of anger describing citizens visiting police stations and gifting officers with flowers and chocolates on Police Day. On a day that featured some of the most dramatic confrontations between the people and the police, a stock photo of the Ministry of Torture's Habib Al-Adly and a clipart of a flower bouquet was a reminder that no such exchange had happened. And while the Egyptian people are accustomed to being lied to, on Wednesday the people responded with fervor. This story's comments were exceptionally long and replete with admonishments against government propaganda and profanities against the Mubarak and co. This was not unlike Egyptian radio's Voice of the Arabs during the 1967 war, which reported victories against Israel while the country's military was virtually obliterated. But these matters are not unexpected. What is unexpected is to find myself unable to publish my own column in my own newspaper, Almasry Alyoum, because the internet is cut off nationwide leaving my editors stranded and unreachable.

Nevertheless, let this be a message to Mubarak's regime: virulence and victory rarely rendezvous. Pharaohs eventually submit to gravity.