Tahrir, a new dawn

Posted on: February 12, 2011

It takes one thousand years to build a democracy.

At the turn of the first millennia King Canute of England bravely displayed his inability to hold back the tides. He declared he was not divine, kings were human, fallible. Two hundred years passed. In 1215 another English king was forced to sign the Magna Carta, a public declaration the law of the land was supreme, not the king. From this point on the king could not raise taxes without consent from a Royal Council. Two hundred years of progress and democracy was still hundreds of years away.

Over 400 years passed. In 1628 another king, Charles 1, was forced to sign the Petition of Right, of which two “rights” were standouts: 1) no taxation without representation and 2) no one could be imprisoned without cause. The building blocks of democracy were beginning to be set in place. So far, it had taken a slow 600 years.

The road to democracy moved more quickly in the late 1700s. The times were not kind to monarchists. The American Revolution forever displacing thousands. The French revolution was unimaginably bloody, 12,000 executed without trial, 17,000 more with one.

Democracy almost didn’t happen in the United States. At the end of the War of Independence, the army was largely unpaid, definitely embittered and ready to defy Congress. The threatened mutiny was pulled back by their chief general, George Washington. He had already spurned an offer of a crown, and in one of the key speeches in American history he turned that near mutiny into loyalty. In a third act of leadership, he declined to run for a third presidential term. Every American president since has retired peacefully and gracefully from office, a basic but necessary tenant of democracy.

Another 70 years passed. An American president was elected who had already noted one-sixth of Americans did not have the vote- they were slaves, deemed mere property. Another 70 years would pass again before women would get the vote. The road to democracy is paved with the blood of martyrs. It took a war and the deaths of almost 700,000 to free those slaves, but a half century would pass again before blacks in America would begin consider themselves free. Their Tahrir Square would be the Lincoln Memorial, where a religious leader became a national leader with the words, “I have a dream.”

Democracy has had its setbacks. Democracy was a seed that withered in post Soviet Russia. Organized crime stole it and still possesses it. In the Philippines, in November, 2009, 21 Philippines office seekers and campaign supporters were massacred.

But there have been inspiring victories. In China, an unknown young man, during the face-off of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, carrying what looked like a white plastic grocery bag in each hand, stood in front of a tank that was leading a column of tanks, that tried to move around him. The act gave the pursuit of freedom one of its most enduring images. In South Africa a one-time prisoner of conscience was freed after 27 years, then invited his jailors to his presidential inauguration.

And now in Egypt, today, this victory of a people who were subject to oppression we in democracies cannot understand, and after being told to go home, they declined, and over the 17 days that followed these ordinary souls braved shootings, thugs, molotov cocktails, lawlessness, the destruction of national relics, the emptying of shops and stood their ground, sharing bread, tending wounds, sweeping the ground, waving flags, sleeping by passive tanks, tweeting, organizing, getting stronger by the day. They turned a Cairo square, more a triangle, really, called Tahrir, into the most famous centre in the world, a monument to history, by showing what democracy is, a voice of the people, determined, resolute, where the most earnest desire is to simply heard and not ignored by ones own government, and to have peace and freedom and democracy.

Thousands of years ago in Egypt, the word ma’at had various meanings, including the sun rises, or the pharaoh speaks, or truth. This one word illustrated how important the king was that the sun rising was emblematic of truth, of law declared by merely being uttered by the royal mouth. Now ma’at has another meaning. It means Tahrir, liberation, the people have spoken.

The Egyptian people are jubilant tonight. They should be. As one, they have taken some final steps of a thousand-year road. Tahrir is a new dawn.


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  • wordbeeps: No, he doesn't deserve an apology. Who tweets during a funeral? If you do, expect feedback. I didn't say the mourners were faking it. I think they we
  • Holly Stick: Look you fuckwit, are you too stupid to realise that Ghomeshi was an actual friend of Layton's, when you tweeted to him that the mourners were faking
  • aardvarkcola: Thank you. I see the rest of your message now. i'm honoured to to have your words on my blog. That alone is a delight. Lawrence


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