This Saturday will be a Global Day of Action in solidarity with Egyptian protestors who continue to cultivate Tahrir Square as not only a symbol of freedom, but as a space for peace and celebration. Of course, marches and rallies have been happening virtually nonstop in some parts of the US and around the world, making clear that eyes remain on Egypt. And while the voices are diverse and their messages are mixed, everyone seems to agree that Egypt will never be the same. This is Egypt's revolutionary moment.
So why is everyone so certain of what the outcome should look like? Why are there so many calls for how the process should unfold, and who should be involved with the negotiations, and what changes need to be made in the constitution and how Egyptian democracy should function? If anything's clear at this point, is that up until now, there has been no Egyptian democracy--so why should we try so hard to put this experience of freedom, of having a voice, of agency and participation into a box?
Today Thomas Friedman layed out some of his observations and hopes about this revolution in his op-ed piece in the NY Times. Besides the poignant signs and the myriad voices that he recounts, he also wrote that the fact that "no one is in charge and everyone in the society is here" is both a strength and a weakness of this movement. I see so easily how it's a strength, but want to question whether it's a weakness.
Democracy has a very specific meaning to most of us who live in the global north and/or west. We think of representatives who are well dressed sitting in rows and casting votes on our behalf. We think of men and women at the helm, guiding a process and making decisions. We think of presidents and executives. We think of triangular structures, in which power is concentrated in that top point.
Seen through that lens, what's happening in Egypt certainly seems precarious, if not outright scary. The Egyptian government has a point; whether it's Suleiman or Mubarak, it doesn't really matter. We are comforted by any such clarity, because then we know who is in charge, and whose decision we can look forward to. The other side really doesn't have a point--not the Muslim Brotherhood, not even El Baradei, who may be more than capable of representing the stated interests of a massive group, but wouldn't even be able to keep the power if he wanted it. It just might be the case that nobody can, and nobody will. And that just might be ok.
Chaos like that is scary for most of us. We want to impose order, rather than letting it unfold.
But what if this really is Egypt's revolutionary moment, and those who continue to gather in Tahrir Square, where no weapons are allowed and where people are greeted with song and dance have something to teach us about democracy? Maybe what's happening will be less triangular, and more circular, because that's what's already happening.
So amidst the calls for the US to make more forceful statements (from the left) or move more slowly (from the right), and US "diplomatic" actions to back Suleiman as the man for the job of transitioning Egypt into democracy, maybe we should just slow down ourselves for a minute and remember what solidarity really means. Instead of forcing someone's hand, or influencing them to conform to our "interests" or even giving them advice, this is our chance for empathic action as a country. Egyptians tasting their freedom don't need someone to come tell them how to be free. Rather, we should validate, even celebrate their movement, not only because of their commitment to nonviolence, but also because of their integrity and their joy in maintaining what is truly a revolution with reverberations across the region.
Maybe if our focus comes at least in part to the present, and to cultivating presence with Egyptians as human beings, then they'll really know we stand in solidarity. We're not passive--no, instead we speak truth to power, we call injustice when we see it, and we create a solid ground for freedom to continue to grow. We're active as witnesses. We're active as advocates for their freedom of expression and of self-determination. We can lend an ear, too, and listen not just for what they are demanding, but for what they have to teach. We can stand in solidarity.