National Commentary

The New Arab Awakening

Egypt’s televised revolt took only 18 days to shake the world, and depose a repressive dictatorship. The political epidemic is contagious and spreading to other parts of the Arab world and North Africa.

Egypt’s televised revolt took only 18 days to shake the world, and depose a repressive dictatorship. The political epidemic is contagious and spreading to other parts of the Arab world and North Africa.

It all began in Tunisia and soon galvanized in Egypt where Hosni Mubarak tried to hang on to his 30-year rule.

The exhilaration and celebration of a new freedom in Egypt is shared by all. Well, almost.

Granted, the U.S. had mixed feelings about the liberation of the land of the pharaohs. Equally wary is Israel, even though the temporary Egyptian military rulers have reassured Tel Aviv that Egypt will honor the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Those temporary military leaders in Cairo have also promised to hold free elections in September. It’s a pledge they have to keep now that the people have become familiar with their great power – to hit the streets again.

The high profile of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings is due to the use of new Internet technologies by the youth in those countries. Twitter and Facebook are the 21st-century tools for world change. Despite attempts by President Mubarak to shut the Internet down in Egypt, the word still got around to the multitudes, who were not about to leave the square until Mubarak was brought down.

The Egyptian revolution also was essentially leaderless, and was inspiring for the world to see that tyrants could be overthrown in a non-violent eruption by the angry crowds who poured into Tahrir Square.

Imagine the bloodshed if every Egyptian had the right to carry a gun, as the Supreme Court has so generously allowed Americans. Americans can be armed, even at huge rallies.

Hats off to the Arabs who resisted with shouts, slogans and high fives – which are powerful weapons, it turns out, and that has awed the world.

The restraint of the Arab world’s military has also been admirable. It should serve as a warning to would-be leaders among the powerful officer corps of the Middle East that peaceful protest is possible.

Ambitious colonels pulled one coup d’etat after another in the aftermath of World War II, and following the creation of the State of Israel.

They halted a genuine Arab democratic national awakening, making way for the military to take over in Syria, Iraq and other states. Speculation now falls on Algeria and Yemen as the next possible nations to succumb to the protesters on the streets and overthrow their ruthless leaders.

In 1920, much was written about the Arab awakening. The Turkish-ruled Ottoman Empire collapsed. The British and French divided the spoils – Lebanon and Syria came under French control at the behest of the League of Nations.

The world is witnessing a new Arab awakening. The last awakening was aborted by the West with their quest for oil and colonial ambitions. It won’t be so easy again with newly empowered people on the ground.

Washington could not quite decide which way to turn. It has always prized stability in far-off lands, too often ignoring the suffering people. It’s surprising that there was little anti-Americanism in the massive Egyptian rallies before the fall of President Mubarak.

And that’s not all, or the end of the story. The fires of freedom are still raging in the Middle East. Protesters, mostly peaceful so far, are on the move from Yemen to Tehran – and surprisingly even Bahrain, one of the oil-rich Gulf States strongly influenced by the presence of the U.S. Navy.

The Financial Times indicated that the “wildfires” in the Middle East may even take hold in former Kremlin states.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate who formerly headed the U.N. atomic energy commission, observed that when he returned to Cairo last year, people were afraid at the time, and he recalled saying, “deliverance will have to come from the people … when you have a quarter of a million people in the streets, I will be with you.”

There is no question the cry for “freedom” cannot be silenced in the Middle East now. It might be a lesson to U.S. presidents and their representatives – to practice what they preach.

The Arab people now know there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Helen Thomas may be emailed at