Mubarak steps down: Obama's a big reason why
After 18 days of protests, Hosni Mubarak has stepped down. As triumphant crowds swell the streets of Egypt, Western analysts discuss the factors the led to his ouster. But they're missing one: President Obama – his life, his family, his message.
The fall of President Hosni Mubarak is a result of many things: Egyptians' frustration with 30 years of oppression, the example of the successful Tunisian uprising, rising global food prices, the organizing power of Facebook and Twitter. But among all these factors, one important one has been overlooked: the role President Obama himself played in the pro-democracy movement.Skip to next paragraph
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We shouldn’t forget the power of what he said in Cairo in June 2009, a speech that history may now remember as the most important of his presidency. He urged young Egyptians and others to take charge of their lives saying, “you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world,” and denounced dictators who steal from their own people. Now, it seems, those words were taken to heart.
I recall talking to an Egyptian professor just one month before Mr. Obama's Cairo speech, who told me her country was excited about the president’s visit. “Is it because of his Muslim roots?” I asked. She laughingly explained that his father’s Muslim background brought Obama no credibility and, in fact, some measure of scorn, because in Muslim tradition, the sons of Islam can never renounce the faith of their fathers, as Obama has done with his embrace of Christianity.
Why Obama captivated Egyptians
On the contrary, she said that Egyptians were enthralled for two primary reasons. The first was that the Egyptian people had been spellbound by the 2008 US presidential campaign. When Obama won, it was a moment to reflect on the deficits of their own moribund political system and on the fact that his story could never happen in Egypt. But there was another factor.
“We are excited about Obama’s visit, but we are ecstatic about his wife and two daughters,” the professor told me. In her eyes and that of her friends, it was Michelle Obama who gave the president credibility. The optics of a strong, outspoken first lady and of a president who clearly respected her and his daughters was revolutionary in a society where women are devalued in the public and private sphere.