Thursday, February 3, 2011
Today riots in Egypt continue for the eighth day.
But let’s go deeper for a moment, let’s explore everything this instant holds.
On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor living in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid is physically abused by local police. His inventory and equipment are confiscated because, police allege, he does not have the proper permit. Mr. Bouazizi attempts to bring a complaint to the local Governor, but the Governor refuses to see him.
Mr. Bouazizi acquires either a can of gasoline or two bottles of paint thinner, sources aren’t clear, stands outside the regional government headquarters, and sets himself on fire. He is hospitalized. The next day, a peaceful march is organized in his honor. Police fire tear gas into the crowd.
A month and a half later, Mohamed Bouazizi has died of his burns, the president of Tunisia, in power for 23 years, has been forced by popular demand to leave his post and flee the country, and the Tunisian prime minister has agreed to step down after holding free elections in six months. Another dozen individuals throughout the Middle East have self-immolated, and the bravery of Tunisian protesters has spread, tapping latent frustration in much of the Arab world. Thousands have protested their governments in Jordan and Algeria. Riots continue to escalate in Egypt, where the President recently dismissed his entire cabinet in an attempt to appease demonstrators.
So what does this matter to any of us?
The ripples of unrest in the Middle East have exciting, frightening implications. We may see the toppling of corrupt regimes, as in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak has been President for three decades, where bloggers are arrested and detained without charge, where torture occurs in police stations, where men suspected of being gay are beaten and jailed, and where, I might add, the United States has sent billions of dollars in economic aid and military equipment. We sold the Egyptian Central Security forces the teargas they are firing into crowds.
Gas prices will rise as the region is threatened by instability, investors will divest in turbulent nations, but, again, how does it affect us?We must begin to see ourselves not as citizens just of the United States, but as citizens of the world. It is as Doctor King said,
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Egypt, which recently denied its citizens access to the Internet and cell phone networks, which we have provided tens of billions of dollars in aid, which is one of our strongest military allies in the Middle East, is buckling under internal pressure more intense than that which drove a certain group of Colonists to write a certain Declaration. The Egyptian people are not tyrannized by a foreign, or colonial power; they are denied the most basic human rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association by their own government.
So what can we do? Sure, we can write letters to our congresswomen, we can protest locally, but isn’t there anything we can do that is satisfying? Isn’t there something we can do with real results? Let us return to the words of Doctor King: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
It is too easy, in the face of silence, to remain silent. It is too easy to look away and ignore it. Everything we say, everything we do, everything we think, matters. We cannot often directly affect what goes on on other continents, but we can affect what goes on here. We can be compassionate, and present, and engaged. We can form a community, where, to paraphrase Henrik Ibsen, everyone is ready to take the helm.
If you have an activities period free, join another. Chorus desperately needs more boys. If you don’t play a sport, consider playing one next year. If you don’t participate in plays, consider participating. Student Council elections aren’t elections if there’s no opposition. Do Stuff Club meets on Fridays in Lowell’s office, all are welcome. And on your way to class, in the hallways, on campus, you can make eye contact with people as you pass them, and, even if you don’t know who they are, you can smile or say, “Hi.”
There is only one thing that I would change about my experience these past four years at Waynflete and it is this: I wish I had chosen to become involved earlier.But it’s not too late, right? I imagine people told Martin Luther King Jr. “This country was founded almost two hundred years ago; it effectively codified slavery in the Constitution with the Three Fifths Rule! The Civil War was fought a century ago and still there is no racial equality in America. It is too late to change this!” And the Egyptians, try telling them, “Your ‘president’ arrests his political opposition and oppresses his people and has done so for three decades! It is too late to change this!” It is not too late.
We seniors have another three months here before we leave for senior projects. But three months can be a lifetime.So whether you have three months, or one, two, or three and a half years - it seems like forever, I know - left in the Upper School, let’s live now, let’s focus on this moment, this instant.
Today riots in Egypt continue for the eighth day.