After thirty years of repression under an autocratic regime largely sustained by economic and military support from the United States, the 80 million people of Egypt are calling for the ouster of their president and for democracy.
It is riveting to watch these historic events play out in real time via television and the Internet. Yet it’s not Facebook or Twitter that engender this enthralling movement; it is the irrepressible human spirit of the Egyptian people.
Not unlike the shopkeepers, craftsmen and farmers who marched out to Concord, Massachusetts, in 1776, to confront the loathsome Redcoats – and by extension the hated British Empire — it is the common folk of Egypt that are standing up and saying “no” to the suppression of their rights. They are saying, “yes” to shaping their own destiny, even if they do not know what that means or what that might look like.
The Egyptian people seek to fashion their own legacy and a new civilization based upon their own ideals and visions of the society they wish to create. They want to seize their own greatness. They are motivated from within and not because they seek to match the greatness of the past or because they want to be exactly like the democracies of the United States or the West.
I cannot help but think of Daniel Pink’s book Drive, in which he describes the three things that motivate all human activity: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
- Autonomy: the desire to be in charge of one’s own destiny.
The Egyptian people have felt powerless for so long – and their newfound freedom of expression is giving them a glimpse of their own power.
- Mastery – to be good at something.
Forty percent of Egyptians live on US$2.00 per day or less and the economy of the country has been in a shambles for some time. Egyptians want what every person wants – the dignity of a job to provide for their families and give their children a future.
- A Sense of Purpose:
Right now, the unifying theme for the Egyptian people is the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. The shaping of a new government and a more prosperous future, however messy those might be, will be what drives the Egyptian people in the long term.
We should not forget the young Tunisian man who lit himself on fire as an act of protest against the repression of his own country’s government. This tragic act spurred his fellow citizens to rise up and seize their own destiny – dubbed by the media, the “Jasmine Revolution.” And whether the events in Tunisia inspired the Egyptians to action – or shamed them as some Egyptian commentators have said, there is now a dynamic at play in the Middle East that will be hard to put “back into the bottle.”
Finally, I think of the efforts of organizations such as the Peace Alliance that hopes to establish a Peace Institute that could provide resources, expertise and training to help people engage in peaceful dialogue and understand better the political processes. Such an organization could be of great value in circumstances such as those unfolding in Egypt.
Meanwhile, at the Oneness-Family School, teaching global literacy means giving our students the historical knowledge and geographical perspectives, they need to understand the interconnected nature of the world of the 21st century – as well as the social-emotional aptitudes and skills they must have in order to be informed and engaged citizens.
Hope always dawns anew when the human spirit rises up to claim its own dignity and heritage. Perhaps this is why we cannot turn our eyes and ears away from the images of the people on the streets of Cairo.