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The Monitor's View

After Mubarak: Egypt's revolution was one of identity

The victory for protesters of all stripes in asserting a new Egyptian identity based on civic values can help other people in their struggle over identity.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / February 11, 2011

For 18 days, millions of Egyptians of all stripes – from feminists to Islamists, rich to poor, Google execs to illiterate farmers, old to young – gathered around Cairo’s Tahrir Square. They set aside differences that would have once kept them from barely talking or even acknowledging each other on the street. In this giant melting pot, personal divisions by class, age, education, religion, or income disappeared.

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The protesters assert a new Egyptian identity based on high ideals – ones that eventually led to President Hosni Mubarak stepping down.

It has been a startling exercise in redefining an entire society, one that has fascinated much of the world – not just other Arab states – in part because so many nations are also trying to redefine themselves.

From China to America, struggles over national identity have found echoes in Egypt’s historic revolution.

One good example is a Feb. 5 speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron. He said Britain is in need of “a clear sense of shared national identity.” He decried policies that encourage “different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.”

The Conservative leader wants to prevent British citizens from being radicalized by jihadists to commit violence. The fear of home-grown terrorists, in both Britain and the United States, has grown as a result of recent attacks, such as the 2005 London subway bombings or the 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, by suspect Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

“True cohesion” at the local or national level, Mr. Cameron says, would allow people to say “I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am a Christian, but I am a Londoner ... too.”


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