Egypt Part III: Final Thoughts

As those of you who are not Amish hermits already know, on Friday Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak fell from power after thirty years. Like a lot of people, I’ve been glued to the news, and my two primary sources of news have been two places I’ve never turned for news before: (1)Twitter and (2)Al-Jazeera. Without a doubt, searching the #Egypt and #Jan25 hashtags on Twitter gave the fastest, most up-to-date picture of what was happening on the ground in Egypt. Often, things I saw on Twitter would then show up on the Al-Jazeera newsfeed fifteen or twenty minutes later. I occasionally checked CNN or Fox News, but mainly just to see what angles they were taking in their coverage.

I wanted to write one last post as a transition back to the normal content of the blog, where I prefer to talk about writing and science fiction conventions and post interesting pictures. I don’t want this blog to become about politics, or the philosophies of democracy, or the big news events of the day. But three of my past four blog entries have been about precisely those topics, because for the past few weeks, the people of Egypt have been telling some incredible stories.

The story that drew me in the most, as evidenced by my previous two blog posts, was the story of Mona Seif: a 24-year-old activist caught up in the midst of things in Tahrir Square, whose voice alternated between hope and terror as events unfolded. But there have been other stories as well:

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al-Jazeera’s on-the-ground correspondent, who made it into Tahrir Square almost every day and at one point was arrested by the Egyptian Army.
Wael Ghonim
, the Google executive whose arrest was caught on video (at about the 1:15 mark), and whose release several days later sparked new life into the protest movement.
Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist living in America who posted almost nonstop through the whole thing, and whose reaction to the fall of Mubarak touched everyone who saw it.

Of course, towering above it all was the story of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian war hero who became a president, who became a dictator, who became a national disgrace.

Those are just some of the stories that I’ve been able to follow. There are hundreds of Egyptians dead, most brutally murdered by their own government, who have stories of their own. Most of those stories, the rest of the world will probably never hear, and that makes me sad.

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: these types of stories fascinate me, and draw me in as a writer and a storyteller. Too often, we leap for the commentary, or the larger meaning, or the political implications, and we don’t listen to what the stories of the people themselves can teach us. I said this about the Afghan girl Aisha, back when her story made the cover of TIME. And I say it again now. The real truth of an event lies in the stories of the individuals, not in what some pundit or news anchor is interested in spinning. And thanks to Twitter, the Egyptian Revolution allowed more of us to see more of these people’s stories than ever before.

Another thing I’ve said before, but will keep repeating: stories humanize people. They teach us to have empathy for people who are different than we are; they let us see things through others’ eyes. Maybe that’s why the outpouring of stories from Egypt is so refreshing; Muslims and Arabs are so often de-humanized into stereotypes in the American media, that it’s nice to see confirmation of what I firmly believe: that across the world, people really aren’t so different from each other. And also, that people usually aren’t the stereotypes and simplistic images they’re portrayed as. Especially when there are 80 million of them, as there are in Egypt.

There’s one last thing I want to mention, and it’s on the subject of idealism versus realism. A lot of people have pointed out, correctly, that Egypt has a long way to go before it has a working democracy, and there is plenty of room yet for things to go wrong or even totally off-track. They fear that Islamic extremists will take power, or that a new military dictatorship will take hold, or that Egypt will renege on its peace treaty with Israel and plunge the region into chaos. To be honest, I feel like those people have been paying too much attention to what pundits have been saying and not enough to what Egyptians have been saying. But that aside, there is this deep-rooted scorn of idealism in certain parts of American (and, indeed, world) politics; the beliefs that things do not get better, or that fighting for change is asking for trouble.

But there are enough naysayers in the world, in my opinion. I’ll choose to be one of those people who does believe that things can get better, that the world can improve. Indeed, that it is improving. I’ll stand with Mona Seif and Wael Ghonim, not Matt Drudge and Glenn Beck. And I will usually choose to believe the best in people. It’s the lesson I glean from the stories I hear and read. And if that makes me a naive idealist, well, I can think of worse ways to go through life.

The story of Egypt’s fight for democracy is a long, long way from over; even as I wrote this entry, tensions are persisting, and the military and the protesters are at odds. No doubt there will be problems ahead. But on Friday, the people got to have their say. And I feel privileged that I got to watch it happen. Even it was from 7,000 miles away.