I've been glued to Al-Jazeera for the past eight days monitoring the protests in Egypt. I turn it on in the morning before breakfast and check the live feed at night before I hit the sack. What started as a personal demonstration of one man's quest to achieve dignity and solace in the face of economic uncertainty in Tunisia has inspired millions to demand that their leaders listen or leave.
Many observers lament that this leader-less movement will produce a fundamentalist regime, destabilize the region and unhinge an already tenuous system of alliances and deals bound together by coalitions of the willing elite. But seeing the camaraderie of the protesters, the tears of joy on their faces, seeing them suddenly pause and pray along with their oppressors, and seeing them take up arms to defend their homes and neighbors makes me believe that the people of Egypt and many other Middle Eastern nations are more than capable of defending their homes against anything, let alone fundamentalism and sectarian violence. In fact, if all goes well and a new government for the people and by the people takes hold in Egypt, then Cairo may become a dynamic, economically stable and culturally-rich region we could learn a lot from.
What is glossed over by some is that the Egyptian protests and the Tunisian movement for change is unprecedented not only in scope, but also because it remains largely leader-less, grassroots and secular. Here in the U.S. we often protest without guns pointed in our faces or the threat of looters ransacking our homes and harming our family members. It takes real courage to demand a change in a far-flung government while horrible and immediate consequences loom around the corner. This courage was once ignited in this country and since then, the United States has successfully challenged bigotry and fundamentalism precisely because the courage of some continually forced their leaders to consider the reasoned opinions of the majority.
This courage has now taken hold in the beautiful demonstrations in Egypt. There is reason to hope that even in the face of tribulations, this courage will drive Egyptians to demand a reasonable and accountable government, free of a fundamentalist ethos. It is heartening to note for instance, that though the protesters stop to pray, the clarion call of the national anthem and not the voice of an imam dominates the soundscape. And though the Muslim Brotherhood is allowed to voice some of the protesters' legitimate claims along with other opposition members, the movement itself remains secular in origin and in scope.
Today at Tahrir Square, millions of men and women, Christians, Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs gathered for a "Million Man March" partially as homage to the many such marches our country has held over the years. A U.S. reporter standing among thousands of protesters at Tahrir Square said that she was offered tea and snacks so many times that it prevented her from reporting what was going on. This from a people who have faced economic depression and political repression on a scale rarely witnessed in our country. They risk everything when they hit the streets, their jobs and their homes, while many of us risk using up a sick day.
In part, Egyptians have been inspired by our democratic movements, though these movements now wallow in the divisions created by cable news channels and political sparring. Much like them, we too can be inspired by their courage, sacrifice and sense of community and look past the non-issues which divide our people.