The past few weeks have been incredibly moving and emotional for me, watching millions of Egyptians take to the streets with fierce determination to bring fundamental change to Egypt. For those of us who grew up in the Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s, certain political figures and realities seemed completely unalterable, including political repression in large parts of the region, and the perpetual presence of iconic figures like Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak. Iraq and Egypt without them was kind of unimaginable.
That reigning order ceased to be perceived as indestructible in 2003, when the world's super power shook the region by removing Saddam Hussein from power. But that was hardly empowering to the Arab street since that destabilization was externally imposed by a very unpopular war that was vehemently opposed in the region (and indeed the world). If anything, the Iraq war only deepened the feeling of powerlessness in the face major tectonic political shifts which they could not influence in any meaningful way.
This revolution in Egypt is altogether different. Hosni Mubarak's regime was plagued by corruption, nepotism, and police brutality at home, and an unpopular foreign policy in the region. The regime also enjoyed US backing, which made it seem all the more unshakable. Undeniably inspired by the Tunisian example, tens of thousands of Egyptians defied all the powers that be by taking to the streets to demand an end to the Mubarak regime. Soon after, and despite lethal violent repression, they turned into hundreds of thousands. And shortly after that, they turned into millions, and finally earned their freedom.
The implications for the region are profound, from other Arab governments' accountability to their people, to the regional equilibrium and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Analysts and commentators will debate and speculate on (and activists and policymakers will try to influence) the exact shape of the aftermath of this revolution (it's useful not to get ahead of ourselves and paint an overly rosy picture because many uncertainties remain). But one thing is not in doubt: this is a new era for the region's youth who now understand that they can and will change the face of the region, and chart their own future. They owe it to the heroic people of Egypt and Tunisia who have inspired us all!