The unbelievable announcement that Mubarak – dictator of Egypt for 30 years- was stepping down sent waves of jubilation and astonishment throughout the Arab world. Cheaper than sending in the American army, minus the orchestrated toppling of statues: the Egyptian people forced their government into doing the impossible — all by themselves as millions, young, and old, male and female, took to the streets and refused to leave until he (Mubarak) did.
Their passion, magnified by the cameras, Twitter accounts, and blogs of the international media, clearly helped shame Mubarak and his cronies into relinquishing their stranglehold on the nation both inside the country as well as outside of it as the protests spread to Egyptian embassies around the major capitals of the world (including Doha).
Everyone was asking, and now people are in the messy process of deciding, what happens next. Who will be in charge? Will it be Nobel Laureate, Mohammed ElBaredi? Or a coalition government? What began in Tunisia, was taken up by the Egyptians, and now we see repeated as the youth and fed up of other countries stake claims to the rights of citizens in participatory governments: protests have flared in Algeria, Libya, Yemen, and unexpectedly, the tiny emirate of Bahrain. The reactions of the various governments have been varied and conflicted.
This historical drama on the global stage became personal and last week, I shared how the Egyptian revolution inspired me to stage a mini-revolution of my own. The images on television and reports I was digesting daily of Tahrir square, Suez, and Alex, precipitated my decision to stand up and say things I had been contemplating for sometime.
Now, like the Egyptians, I have to stand by what I’ve said and pay the price for freedom. Revolutions are not cheap: in the literal sense as camel owners at the foot of the iconic pyramids sell stock in order to feed their families. Over the course of two weeks, the Egyptian tourist industry deflated to the tune of millions of dollars and even now as the country struggles to stabilize. At a dinner party a week ago, friends admitted they were canceling their trip scheduled for April because they wanted things to be calmer for their first visit.
Revolutions are expensive not only in financial but personal sense. People died in protests in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez.
And over the weekend, people have died in Bahrain as the police showed extreme force, riding into a square at 3 a.m., and opening fire on sleeping women, children, and men. They paid with their lives for the things that they believed they were protesting for: equal treatment by their government, respect, dignity, as citizens.
For me, no one has demanded my life and I don’t want to overstate my analogy. But as a I contemplate the ripples of my last stand, it is a metaphorical change on the personal scale that will nonetheless have seismic consequences.
The life that I have lived until now, in many senses will no longer be in the composition of my day to day. Perhaps most directly, our lifestyle as a family may be affected. We’ll make different choices about how we use our resources. As the Tunisians, Egyptians, Algerians, Libyans, Yemeni, and Bahrainis have shown us this is what happens when priorities are realigned: you make new choices that make going back to the way things were before unlikely.
The unknown future isn’t easy. As the Algeria protesters know, nor is it glamorous-far from the cameras and computers of the international media.
At the end of the day (and in most beginnings) you have to ask yourself: is this worth it? If more people asked and answered this question honestly, perhaps we’d be in happier societies. Because both westerners and Asians and Arabs have fallen into the modern trap of feeling pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle, image, or status, spending the better part of years of their lives doing things they’d rather not, to impress people they don’t really like. Why? This is the socially enforced roller coaster I’m trying to get off. In so many ways it’s as counter culture as getting a group of entrenched privilege holders to share.
After I had a second conversation about my intended steps towards this major life change, I caught up with someone I hadn’t seen for a long time. Her husband had passed away a few months ago, and our meeting was fortuitous in the liminal moment when my emotions were careening towards regret, nostalgia, and sheer panic.
“Life is too short,” she said, with steely blue eyes tried in the fire of surviving an incomparable.
With the courage of my friend the widow, the steady determination of protesters across the Arab world, and believing support of my family that I enter into another next stage of my life, unsure of where it will take me or what I will be doing.
One thing is certain: I am reaching for that elusive thing that has captivated the hearts of so many around the Arab world, that preserve hereto only certain for residents of the western hemisphere: equality and happiness, freedom from corruption.
Join me and share the tales of your struggle for real happiness, not that prescribed by the movies, television show, or internet ads. Like the solidarity of peoples struggling to shake unfeeling institutions of power, we will join forces and remember there is another way.