Egypt's youth conducted a Facebook revolution

In this photo taken from Egyptian television, Egypt's vice president Omar Suleiman makes the announcement that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down.

Uninstalling dictator in progress" is how one Tweet from Tahrir Square in Cairo put it.

 

As millions of Egyptians responded to the call of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and came out to join the popular revolution in Egypt, the West watched in bewilderment trying to figure out its response to a youthful and stunningly nonviolent demand for democracy.

For three weeks a population repressed for 30 years by the regime of President Hosni Mubarak had come out on to the streets to demand an end to the oppression. After Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. military assistance, and there are close ties between the U.S. and Egyptian military. Mr. Mubarak has been an important ally for the United States in the Middle East, and in exchange for his support on U.S. policy toward countries such as Israel and Iran we have overlooked his intimidation and oppression of the Egyptian people.

When the demonstrations in Tahrir Square started Jan. 25, the initial inclination of the Obama administration was to support Mr. Mubarak as someone who had the best interests of his people at heart, but who needed to make some changes in his administration.

AS THE CROWDS demanding Mr. Mubarak's resignation grew on Tahrir Square in Cairo and spread to other cities such as Alexandria and Suez, this position became untenable, and the Obama administration has had to revise its initial position. As President Obama said in Michigan late last week, "We are witnessing history unfold," adding, "America will do everything we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy."

On Thursday, in the wake of an emotional appeal made on television by the freed Google executive Wael Ghanim -- who was one of the organizers of the Jan. 25 demonstrations -- jubilant crowds gathered across Egypt to watch what was widely expected to be Mr. Mubarak's resignation speech. The joy turned to anger as it quickly became apparent that Mr. Mubarak was not stepping down, but was simply delegating some power to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief who is known to have close ties with the CIA.

Mr. Mubarak also sounded a defiant note when he said he would not allow "foreign interference," which was interpreted to be a reference to U.S. pressure on him to step down.

But joy returned with Mr. Suleiman's announcement Friday that Mr. Mubarak would indeed step down as president, and leadership would be transferred to Egypt's military to transition the country.

THE MILITARY actually is caught in the middle between the demonstrators and the regime, and as long as they did not turn on the demonstrators this revolution had a chance.

In its scale and its nonviolence, this first Facebook revolution has tremendous ramifications for the region and the world.

Repression in Egypt has been an important source for the spread of terrorism in the Middle East and beyond, as individuals and groups persecuted by Egypt were radicalized and took their message of violent change to other parts of the world.

Today, Egypt is sending a very different message to the proponents of violence: Millions of nonviolent demonstrators can bring down a military dictatorship with their prayers and their chants for peaceful change.

For once, American values and our interests in the region may actually coincide. Whether Washington will seize the opportunity remains to be seen.

(The writer is chairwoman of the Department of Political Science at Augusta State University.)

 

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