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May 5, 2011

The Brilliant Arab Youth

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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In the mind of the Arab masses the brilliant Arab youth managed to make a paradigm shift from how-did-we-get-here to how-can-we-move-forward.

The year was 2011.

The place was Tunisia, then Egypt. Soon after were Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Bahrain. And at a short distance was the rest of the Arab world.

The day was January 25, the day Egypt, the most populous and most influential country in the Arab world with its 80 million people protected by its national defence forces, changed world order, not only in the Middle East, but in the entire world.

World history will now be recorded as pre and post January 25th, 2011.

My prediction is this: following the examples of the Arab youth, soon young Israeli Jews will liberate the country from Zionism and its Apartheid policies, end the 44-year ugly occupation and bring dignity and freedom to all citizens.

The Arab youth overcame a climate of fear, not overnight but incrementally over some 10 years.

Over the years I watched the Egyptian youth articulating their opposition to imperialism, occupation, and dictatorship. They rejected a lack of decent education and health care. They said no to a cycle of poverty and corruption imposed by the rich and powerful. They longed for democracy, dignity, liberty and social justice. They were determined to live in a free not a fear society.

The Egyptian youth rejected western hypocrisy, lecturing them about the need of democracy and at the same fully supporting the corrupt regime of Mubarak, even to his last days in power.

I used to join Egyptian youth and political opposition leaders in their annual conference, The Cairo Conference, every March starting in 2003, the year of the American invasion of Iraq, at the Journalist Syndicate Lecture Hall in downtown Cairo.

I was in Tahrir Square during the Revolution. I was the only one who managed to video record the protesters’ struggle with the security forces on the first Friday of the Revolution on Kasr-Al-Neel bridge, Friday January 28, called the Friday of Anger by Egypt’s youth. I did the recording from my hotel room at the 17th floor overlooking the Nile and the bridge.

I was in Tahrir Square among millions on Feb 1. Then after Mubarak had gone, on Fridays April 1 and April 8.

For the last three months I have interviewed a cross section of the people who have made this revolution a reality. Muslims and Christians. Young and old. Political leaders and people with no political affiliation. Men and women. Women with Niqab, with Hijab and without head cover. Students and professors. Upper and middle class. Practicing Muslims and Christians and non-practicing ones.

In my interviews I was impressed with the political maturity of all. I found Tahrir Square had united all the people there. They agreed on priorities and had one political agenda. They differed on the best way to implement this agenda when they left the Square. But those differences were accepted and the debate was, for the most part, civilized.

During my visits to my birth country I also visited Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria. I had and still do have friends in these countries. I also followed their struggle for dignity, freedom and social justice.

If I had been told as recently as last December (2010) that popular protests would topple the Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunisia, followed by that of Mubarak in Egypt, and others in Yemen, Libya and Syria I would have said that was impossible. But the impossible is now a reality.

Arab revolutions? But why? And why now?

The textbook analysis leads to something like this: These countries have large numbers of young people but too few jobs. Although this is true, the majority of the young people who led these revolutions had good university education and did hold good paying jobs.

Another explanation: These young people connect through social media and other internet means. Although this was true in the case of Egypt it was not the case of Tunisia and Yemen where the regime made sure that young people had no access to the internet.

These young people were inspired by the 24/7 satellite television images communicated across the Arab world. No wonder the regimes arrested, banned and even killed any journalist who did not follow the regime version of the facts.

The leaders of the dictatorships of the Arab world had a common feature: all have longevity. Libya’s Gadaffy came to power through a military coup in 1969, Saleh of Yemen ruled for 33 years and Mubarak of Egypt for 30 years and he is now 83 years old.

Any youth in any of these countries will tell you that their leaders are useless, corrupt and above all protected by the United States as long as they bow to her demands.

They knew all along that what will bring change are mass demonstrations with the willingness of many people to risk their livelihoods and even their lives.

They articulated perfectly that their countries had become states without citizens where rulers were the real owners of everything and everyone--and the people were slaves.

The 2004 Arab Human Development Report described Arab regimes as facing “chronic crisis of legitimacy, often relying on inducement and intimidation in dealing with their citizens”.

Arab regimes excelled in controlling dissent and often used violence – not a sign of strength but in reality a sign of weakness.

Ayman Nour of Egypt was sentenced to five years in jail just because he ran for president against Mubarak during the first presidential election in Egypt’s history in 2005.

Later this year, in a post January 25th Egypt Nour will run again against some 10 candidates. Thanks to the youth of Egypt, the people are now free to vote for the best.

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