Anastasia Hobbet Headshot

As the Revolution Builds in Egypt, Mubarak Needs a Trip to Oslo

Posted: Updated:

Hosni Mubarak has shut down Al Jazeera in Egypt, choked off internet and cell phone service, and has begun arresting journalists. But he hasn't cracked down brutally like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and my bet is he won't try. In his heart, if not in his administration, I suspect that he cares about the opinions of Egyptians and of humankind. He needs a lightning visit to Oslo, Norway, where I offer myself as a guide for a quick one-stop tour along the harbor area of this historic city. We won't be stopping at the Nobel Peace Prize Center. I have something else to show him. We can go there on foot.

I'll take him up the bluffs along the harbor to Oslo's ancient fort, which dates to the thirteenth century. In one of the old buildings perched atop the fortress wall, is the Norwegian World War II Resistance Museum, a modest place. We can skip most of the exhibits. What I want him to see is the crude radios cobbled together by the Norwegians when the Germans outlawed the social networking and communications of that era. My favorite uses the bridgework of a political prisoner as critical wiring. I want to show him the sheaths and sheaths of underground newspapers that flourished -- most of them hand-lettered and stenciled -- despite the German bans, threats, and merciless punishments. I want to show him the photographs of the determined young faces of the resistance workers who wrote and edited the newspapers in closets and cellars and sheds, and distributed them by hand in secret and at great risk. I want him to see the boxes and crates and books that were modified to hide messages sent to the Allies, the briefcase with a secret compartment, the letter in invisible ink, the shoe with the hollowed-out heel.

No one could silence the Norwegians, not the Gestapo headquartered a few blocks from this museum, or the nearly 400,000 German soldiers stationed in the country, despite the fact that in 1942 there were barely 3 million Norwegians. This is a stubborn country.

The story told in this old building is not unique, of course. That's the reason I want to take Mubarak there, to remind him that every resistance movement in the world has the same story to tell: Desperate people will take every risk to win their freedom. Not all succeed, but Egypt has been restless for a decade, and there are eighty million Egyptians. Mubarak isn't barbarous enough to keep them quiet.

There's one more exhibit I want to show to Mubarak, in my mind the prize of the museum. A simple black plaque, abraded with years of wear, is mounted next to a small light box. Mounted inside the box, like a six-inch, backlit screen, is a piece of coarse paper pricked through like lace. It takes your eyes a moment to realize that the pricks form words and sentences, line after line, in neat, precise lettering. This is the diary, written on toilet paper with a pin, of an Oslo journalist, Petter Moen, who was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1944. The plaque says: "Wads of five sheets each were stuffed into a ventilating shaft which ran under the floor."

Moen died during transport to Germany later that year, but his diary was recovered after the war and widely published. Even this tiny sample still shouts out its message: You will never silence my voice.

As we leave the museum, I'll ask Mubarak to take in the view of Oslo from the high fortress walls. Just across the harbor is the Nobel Peace Center and Oslo's vast city hall, where the Peace Prize is awarded. Two Egyptians have won the Peace Prize: Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar El Sadat, and Mohamad ElBaradei, who is hot on his heels. Two others have won in Chemistry and Literature, Ahmed Zewail, and the great Naguib Mahfouz, who once said, "If the urge to write should ever leave me, I want that day to be my last."