After 18 days of non-violent protest, Egyptians successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak, the dictatorial ruler of the country for nearly three decades. The protests, which reached in the millions, drew from a wide section of Egyptian society, including tech-savvy youth, 80-year-old feminists, the unemployed, and wealthy businessmen.
Chief among their demands was dismissing the current regime; lifting the emergency law that had been in place for 30 years; amending the constitution to limit presidential terms; eliminating corruption and torture; and encouraging better wages and job opportunities.
The protests began on “The Day of Rage,” Tuesday, Jan. 25 in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and continued to escalate throughout the week. Although the demonstrations were peaceful, the Mubarak regime responded with brutal violence. Police officers fired live bullets and water cannons at the protestors, and hired thugs rode on horse and camelback into the crowds, beating people below them. But the resistance only inspired the Egyptians more, and they continued to come out in greater and greater numbers.
Criticizing the United States’ unwavering support of Mubarak over the past 30 years, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pledged his support to the Egyptian people in a New York Times op-ed piece. “At other historic turning points, we have not always chosen wisely,” he wrote. “How we behave in this moment of challenge in Cairo is critical.”
“It is vital that we stand with the people who share our values and hopes and who seek the universal goals of freedom, prosperity and peace,” he continued. “For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy.”
In the next week, the protestors gained a second wind from Wael Ghonim, a Google executive imprisoned for 12 days for spearheading the movement through a Facebook page. “I am not a hero,” he said in an interview after his release. “I only used a keyboard — the real heroes are the ones on the ground.”
Despite this growing opposition, Mubarak refused to step down, but promised not to run for re-election in September. This concession also seemed to strengthen the resolve of the Egyptians, as many pitched tents in Tahrir Square, where they vowed to stay until Mubarak left.
But on Friday, Feb. 11, the protestors succeeded as Mubarak vacated the presidency under increased pressure from the military and the international community. Power now resides with the military until democratic elections take place and a new constitution is drawn up. With his Swiss bank accounts frozen, Mubarak — whose location remains uncertain — awaits the possibility of trial.
“This is the greatest day of my life,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace laureate whom many look to as a potential leader in this transitional period.
Although the United States has been a longtime ally of Mubarak — he has received more than $1.5 billion per year in aid — the Obama administration appeared to support the protestors throughout the 18 days.
“Egyptians have inspired us,” the president said in a speech after Mubarak’s resignation. “They’ve done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence. For in Egypt, it was the moral force of non-violence, not terrorism, not mindless killing, but non-violence, moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”
Bostonians also showed their support for Egyptians throughout the 18-day protest. On the Saturday following “The Day of Rage,” hundreds gathered in Harvard Square and peacefully marched down to the Statehouse, and on to Faneuil Hall, waving Egyptian flags and chanting “down, down, Hosni Mubarak!” The following Saturday, hundreds gathered again in Copley Square and marched to City Hall. The Friday of Mubarak’s ouster, many celebrated with song and poetry in an MIT auditorium.
For Amira Hussein, Mubarak’s overthrow was a moment she had looked forward to for many years. The Egyptian international student at Boston University said she was “extremely happy” to hear the news, and hopes it will “be the beginning of lots of reforms” in her home country.
“People have been really suffering under Mubarak’s regime,” she explained. According to the government’s own figures, the poverty rate stands above 20 percent. When Hussein saw the success of the Tunisian revolution last month, she wished the same would take place in Egypt, but never dreamed it could happen so quickly or peacefully, and said she feels “proud of how it happened.”
Now, she hopes real reform can take place, including “cleansing the current system” of rampant corruption, having fair elections and a more representative parliament, and more job opportunities for all.
But the Egyptian revolution was not just an inspiration to Egyptians. For Yusra al-Najjar, a Palestinian American living in Boston, the Egyptian success has offered hope for her own people. “This revolution makes me think that some day Palestine will truly be free,” she said.
“These revolutions [in Tunisia and Egypt] have given people hope, allowing them to believe that the power of the people can overcome the fear, corruption, poverty and despotism,” she continued. “The hope that these revolutions have given to people around the world is priceless.”