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Egypt's revolution redefines what's possible in the Arab world

The Middle East has been riveted by the success of the grass-roots revolution that ended Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign.

By Staff writer / February 11, 2011

Egyptians celebrate in Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday, following the announcement that Hosni Mubarak will step down as president.

Ann Hermes / The Christian Science Monitor

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Baghdad

As darkness fell over the winter-chilled Middle East on Friday, television screens lit up living rooms from Tehran to Damascus to Rabat. All eyes were riveted by the spectacle that just weeks ago seemed impossible: the toppling of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power.

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The collapse in Egypt took just 18 days of bold protest, inspired by the overthrow of Tunisia’s long-standing strongman just weeks before.

For Arabs used to a heavy hand and little hope, Egypt’s revolution has redefined the possible, before their very eyes.

“Everyone is watching this – hundreds of millions of Arabs, Muslims, and who knows who else?” says Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, speaking from Cairo.

“The Arab world is never going to go back to what it was. We are going to wake up to a new Egypt tomorrow, and we’ll also wake up to a new Arab world,” says Mr. Hamid.

“What has changed is that Arabs know that they can change their own situation without the help of the US, without the help of the international community, they can just go out on the streets and do it on their own – and no one can take that away from them,” he says.

Across the region, Arabs have watched transformative events unfold day after day, first in Tunisia where a single self-immolation in protest in mid-December sparked weeks of demonstrations and finally regime change.

Then Egyptians began gathering strength on the streets, battled Mr. Mubarak’s security forces, clung on in Tahrir Square in the face of mob attacks, and then simply took over when the regime began losing its ability to control or intimidate the crowds.

“On the psychological and symbolic level, it is a shattering moment,” says Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. “Remember that Mubarak was the public face of political authoritarianism in the Arab world. He had built one of the most feared security apparatuses, employing five million personnel.”

The forced exit of Mubarak from the presidential palace has sent shock waves to Arab rulers. “Every village. Every neighborhood. Every Arab regardless of how poor, or alienated or marginalized, [now has] a sense of empowerment, a sense of revival,” says Mr. Gerges. “The psychology of the Arab world has changed.”

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