Saturday, February 12, 2011

What Egypt Can Teach Us

My kids came home from school every day the last few weeks talking about Egypt.  They were fascinated by the demonstrators in Tahrir Square who were protesting the regime of the American backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak.  My son, in particular, would ask me if there was news from Egypt.  They were depressed when Mubarak didn’t step down, and then they were elated when he did.
True democracy inspires hope in people and when a government won’t give it to you, when elections are rigged, it is awesome to see so many people standing up for freedom, for truth, for justice.
There were concerned voices.  One radio and TV host worried we’d have a new caliphate.  Some Israelis expressed understandable concerns about how change in Egypt would affect peace treaties with Israel.  Some people in American felt we shouldn’t dump a dictator who had long been a friend to America, and some people in America wanted us to dump the dictator as fast as possible.
But mostly I heard and saw joy and admiration and hope -- joy and admiration for the people of Egypt and hope for humankind that we may follow the Egyptian example of non-violent revolution.
What were the factors in Egypt that led to a joyful success?
Non-violence: The protestors policed themselves, checking people for weapons when they entered Tahrir Square.  They also cleaned up messes left by clashes with pro-Mubarak forces.  If the protestors had not been non-violent, they would have lost international support pretty quickly.  The government of Egypt invalidated itself by engaging in violence against protestors and journalists.  
Giving a voice to the voiceless: It was very important that the people of Egypt were heard through Al Jazeera, the New York Times coverage, the Huffington Post, and through CNN with Anderson Cooper and other broadcast and print media.  We admired the professional restraint of the Egyptian military that  seemed oriented towards preventing violence between different factions rather oriented towards silencing protestors.
Joyful atmosphere:  Musicians and singers came and sang to the protestors.  Families came and picnicked together.
Inclusion:  women and children were included, particularly when the atmosphere was nonviolent.  Everyone from all political and religious spectrums was included, but the protests were led by idealistic youth trying to build a better future for their country.  Some commentators in the United States tried to portray these protests as controlled by radical Muslims and while the Muslim Brotherhood was there, the real leaders included a 30 year old Egyptian marketing executive for Google, Wael Ghonim, who set up a Facbook page for a man who had been beaten to death by the police and some high school and college age students who gathered together in an apartment to reach out to others through Facebook.
The last point bears repeating.  Young people led the way.
And humility: Wael Ghonim never aspired to start a revolution or lead a country, and he promises to return to work as marketing executive for Google as soon as possible.
People persevered: People kept on coming to the Tahrir Square or they camped out in the Square day after day.
People helped each other: Because the protest took so long, because protesters camped out, others brought them bananas, bread, and water.
So how do we apply these lessons to other situations?
How can we apply it in the United States? 
But I also want to ask, how can we apply these lessions to other issues such as abuse in general and clergy abuse in particular?
For both Church and country, I don’t think we can wait for our leaders to do the right thing.  They answer not to us but a to a power structure that is wedded to the status quo.  For Catholics who think everything is fine and the leadership has taken care of everything, just look at the staying power of the Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests.  Lets face it.  Lawsuits are not very inspiring.  They exist not so much because lawyers push them, but because we Catholics haven’t done enough to support survivors coming forward.  We haven’t done enough to support survivors healing or to stop abuses, because reports of recent abuses still find their way to the media.

What can we learn from Egypt that might strengthen our cause of eliminating abuse and caring for survivors?
How can we be nonviolent in our actions?  I think this also includes how can we be emotionally nonviolent?  When we are emotionally violent we turn away people from our cause almost as surely as we do with guns and bombs.
How can we give a voice to the voiceless?
How can we be joyful as we proclaim serious issues?
How can we include everyone who wants to be included?
What can we do to inspire young people?
What role does humility play?  Who most needs to be humble?  How can we all be humble ourselves (because we can't expect others to be humble if we aren't humble ourselves)?
How can we persevere when things don’t go our way?
How can we help each other?
You tell me.  I want to hear from you.

This is me in Soviet Armenia in 1989 working in a joint Soviet/American peace group to build homes for people who lost them after the December 1988, earthquake.  Protesting is the easy part.  How do we build a better future?

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