x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A monument to Egypt's people, past and present

In a land of ancient treasures, Egypt's successful movement has built the foundations of a people's monument: a just society founded by a non-violent protest.

From Alexandria to Aswan, Egypt's inheritance has long been the marvel of the world. Its ancient monuments are rightly the pride of the nation, but they have always extolled the majesty of a leader, not the glory of the people as a whole. Work on a different kind of monument, dedicated to the power of its popular uprising and the promise it holds for the future, has now begun in Tahrir Square.

In the heart of the Arab world, at the centre of Africa's largest city, there is a testament to a people who were unified and unyielding. More importantly, those who gathered in Tahrir Square did not allow their anger to turn into violence. Students and professionals, members of every class, men and women, young and old, all stood above their divisions and in support of a new Egypt.

The list of nonviolent campaigns that have transformed the world is far too short; for the movement that started on January 25 in Tahrir Square to be included among them, it must be the beginning of a greater political project. India, for instance, did not become independent on the day that Mahatma Gandhi concluded his march to the sea to make salt in defiance of the British government. Likewise, those who sang We Shall Overcome in Birmingham, Alabama, with Martin Luther King, only to have dogs and water cannons loosed upon them, did not accomplish their goals in a single day. But whether in Alabama or in Gujarat, acts of nonviolence and unity were necessary to set the tone for the work ahead and the transformation to come.

There are many who say that Egypt's revolution will be hijacked by Islamists or a military dictatorship; it is up to the Egyptian people to prove these naysayers wrong. To do so, the national unity and determination on display in Tahrir Square will need to be emulated in cities and towns throughout Egypt and for far longer than 18 days.

As Egyptians go about this work, they might remember that while their campaign to remove Hosni Mubarak was non-violent, it was not bloodless. At least 300 Egyptians were killed and the final toll of events has not yet been counted.

There is no physical monument that can do justice to what they sacrificed. It is the society that Egyptians build together after the removal of Mr Mubarak that will become the memorial to those Egyptians who, whether during three weeks of protest or during three decades of repression, paid the ultimate price in the hope that a new Egypt could be born.