As Egyptian dust settles, lessons learned

We all saw last Friday morning when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced to the world he was leaving office after nearly three weeks of relentless protests from the people of Egypt. This was kind of a surprise, since Mubarak told the masses he was not going to step down the night before, and because dictators do not have a stellar history of relinquishing power when people ask them to.

But that is what made the protests by the Egyptian people so important. While Egypt’s future remains murky, and is unclear what kind of regime will replace Mubarak. In addition, America is in a tough spot since Mubarak was one of its biggest allies and is now supporting the protests after the fact. The point is that the people of Egypt re-established the power of protest, and that true change can come if a large group of people would sacrifice anything to get it (even though they have not exactly been peaceful). In an age where apathy has become more and more prevalent, it was refreshing to see change in the Middle East come without an onslaught of military action.

I know there was an increase in apathy when it comes to government protest, because I felt it myself. As anyone who reads this column knows I’m all for fighting for one’s beliefs, but I am wary of what people do to show it. There’s a lot more to protest than marching in a circle outside the White House holding a sign. Stuff like that doesn’t change anything. For a protest to truly work, every action taken must advance the message. The civil rights protests in the 1960s were a great example. From the marches to the bus boycotts, no action was wasted and that’s why the protests worked. The Egyptian people understood that. They were fed up with the oppressive rule of Mubarak and they would not rest until he was gone.

The situation also puts things in perspective here in America. I know there are a lot of people who seem to think President Obama is a dictator and his administration is destroying the Constitution somehow, but sometimes we lose sight of how good we have it in this country. There are still many countries where people are killed for making disparaging comments about the government. America is not being warped by "liberal fascists." To say things like that is diminishing and trivializing the people around the world who really are trapped under oppressive governments. It’s like a rich person driving through an impoverished neighborhood having a nervous breakdown when his Rolls-Royce gets mud on it.

But there is still one major issue that somewhat diminishes these protests, and that is the violence that has stemmed from it, especially against the journalists who were sent to cover them. CNN’s Anderson Cooper and his crew were assaulted two weeks ago and CBS News’ Lara Logan was physically and sexually assaulted by a small group of men on Feb. 11. Peaceful protests are very difficult to pull off and some violence was expected, but Egypt has to establish some sort of order, and fast. Violence has plagued this reason for years and years, and hopefully the Egyptian people can put to these heinous attacks.

The protests in Egypt remind us that a country’s power lies with people that have no official political positions. Their actions have already inspired other nations in the Middle East, such as Iran, Yemen and Bahrain to actively protest regimes in power. Maybe the people in the region are tired of negotiations and countries in the West trying to decide for them what change is. Egypt has inspired others to once again fight for democracy themselves.

It will be interesting to see how far this goes, and the overall global impact this wave of revolution may have, as long as the cycle of violence that has that has defined the Middle East does not restrict it.