Let freedom ring!

Let Freedom Ring

by Sheila Musaji

Yesterdays news from Egypt was monumental.  Ordinary Egyptian people had through non-violent protests and resistance brought down a brutal dictatorship of 30-years, and they had done this in less than a month.  With nothing but their courage and determination and against all they succeeded in gaining the first of their demands - Mubarak is no longer the President of Egypt.

Today is a day for the Egyptian people to celebrate this first victory of their great revolution.  They have much to be proud of.

Tomorrow, however, these exhausted heroes of Egypt will need to find the strength to continue their struggle to obtain freedom and democracy, and all the rest of us around the world who support their struggle will need to continue finding ways of offering them support.  Their struggle for freedom is far from over.

Omar Suleiman said in his brief televised statement that Hosni Mubarak had waived the office of presidency and turned the government over to the Supreme Military Council.  This means that the figurehead of the regime is no longer in power.  However, Mubarak and other members of his regime were all from the military, and the Egyptian military is very powerful and very rich.  The term military-industrial complex applies very well.  The military, or more specifically, the military officers have controlled Egypt for decades.  Whether or not such a powerful military will be willing to serve the people of Egypt rather than to rule them remains to be seen.  Whether or not they will support the people in bringing about a complete regime change or whether they will attempt to betray the revolution and install a clone of Mubarak remains to be seen.

The Supreme Military Council is headed by Omar Suleiman.  The other members of the council are Defence Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army, Lt.Gen. Sami Anan and Minister for Civil Aviation Air Marshal Ahmed Shafiq. 

We know that even during the past few weeks the military continued detaining and even torturing protestors, and there are estimates that at least 1,000 protestors are in detention still.  Omar Suleiman’s position, if any, in any sort of transition government remains unclear, and his past is unsavory at best.

Removing Mubarak from power was only the first of the demands of the people.  Mubarak’s resignation is a milestone in the struggle for freedom, but the rest of the regime is still in place. The other demands that have been heard most often were to:

— Lift the emergency powers, end arbitrary detentions, and release those who have been detained
— Dissolve the national assembly and the senate
— Guarantee electoral competition
— Restore full judicial supervision of elections
— Negotiate a transitional period
— Establish a pluralistic and inclusive group that includes members of the protest groups to form a transitional coalition committee to oversee the transition period until the elections
— Establish a group to draft a new constitution that guarantees the principles of freedom, rule of law, human rights, and social justice. The new constitution should set term limits on the presidency.
— Removal of any restriction on the free formation of political parties, on civil, democratic and peaceful bases
— Freedom of the press
— Freedom to form labor unions
— Investigate and prosecute those in the regime responsible for criminal activities including fraud, corruption, and human rights violations
— Hold free and fair elections for a president and new parliament

At this point none of these demands have been met.  Lifting the emergency powers will be critical, as until that is done no one can feel free to speak freely, and no further reforms can proceed.

The military has not yet issued any clear timetable for a transition, or outlined any concrete steps they would take towards inclusion.  Today they began “helping” the protestors dismantle the barricades and are encouraging them to go home which seems to be not only hasty, but perhaps an attempt to get back to business as usual.

According to The Guardian A group of the activists issued what they called the “People’s Communique No 1” — mirroring the titles of military communiques – listing a series of demands.    The included the immediate dissolution of Mubarak’s cabinet and “suspension of the parliament elected in a rigged poll late last year”.    The reformists want a transitional administration appointed with four civilians and one military official to prepare for elections in nine months and to oversee the drafting of a new constitution.

And, according to Foreign Policy According to the coalition of youth groups who helped staged the “January 25 revolution,” as it is now widely being called here, there is still a long way to go. At a press conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo, representatives of several of them—including the April 6 Movement, the Justice and Freedom Party, and the Muslim Brotherhood Youth—laid out their objectives: an end to the emergency law, a government of national unity, an anti-corruption drive, accountability for the abuses and violence by police forces and armed thugs over the last few weeks, the immediate release of all political detainees, the dissolution of Parliament, and a new constitution.

It seems that the attempts to undermine the revolution have already begun.

There are many other powers in the world outside of Egypt including other authoritarian regimes in the Arab world who are fearful that they may be next - and, sadly, my own U.S. government, that have for many decades supported authoritarian rulers like Mubarak in the interest of a false “stability”.  The U.S. continues to send conflicting messages, and U.S. aid to the Egyptian government (primarily the military) continues.  I hope and pray that the foreign policy of the U.S. government changes and that it remembers the ideals upon which this country was founded.  Whether or not the U.S. will support the people in bringing about a complete regime change or whether they will attempt to betray the revolution and install a clone of Mubarak remains to be seen.  All of us who say we love freedom will have to stand with the Egyptian and Tunisian people and demand that our governments act on their ideals and principles and not revert to selfish self-interest, which in the long run will not bring justice or stability. 

One advantage that the Tunisians, Egyptians, and other peoples struggling for freedom have that those attempting to achieve freedom in the past did not, is that through electronic and social media, the world truly is watching, in real time.  We can all continue to spread the word of ongoing events and not allow mainstream media to ignore or sweep what is really happening under the rug.  We can also help by keeping an eye on what our own government says and does, and by continuing to maintain pressure on our elected representatives to stand for democracy and freedom or risk being voted out of office.

The people of Egypt have proved that incredible things are possible and that ordinary people have the power to take their destiny into their own hands.  The Egyptian people deserve our gratitude for giving hope for a better day to the world.  They also deserve our support in achieving their goals.  Let freedom ring!


The Egyptians should be in charge of Egypt’s future http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_egyptians_should_be_in_charge_of_egypts_future/0018378
Revolutions in the Middle East - a Historic Moment - article collection http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/revolutions_in_the_middle_east_-_a_historic_moment_-_article_collectio/0018363