I am absolutely elated by the triumph of nonviolent people power in Egypt! Like so many supporters all over the world, I’ve been glued to news from Egypt since January 25, feeling a mixture of hope and concern for the movement, praying that demonstrators would be able to adhere to nonviolence despite violence done to them. Every day, my hope deepened as people displayed great courage and creativity in the face of weapons, police force, imprisonment and torture. And now, today, such joyous success! When tyranny is overcome through the power of nonviolence, there is no sweeter victory.
I have to think about Iraq – and how Saddam Hussein likewise could have been ousted through a people’s movement, had there been enough support for a civil resistance movement to grow. Instead, the US did exactly the opposite – destroying civil society through the savage bombings of 1991 and the years of debilitating economic sanctions that followed. The invasion of 2003 was not only a crime against an already battered people, it was the antithesis of how to encourage democratic reform. The people’s movement in Egypt has put in even starker relief the debacle of US policy in Iraq and gives us a vision of what might have been. Democracy cannot be forced at the point of a gun.
A positive corollary of the Egyptian people’s movement is this: I have a sense that during these 18 days of mass demonstrations, there has been less violence throughout the Middle East. People have watched the movement in Tunisia, then in Egypt with much interest, taking note that mass nonviolent protest has garnered much more sympathetic attention around the world than terror attacks. I can imagine that someone who might have been contemplating committing a suicide bombing would now change his mind. The success of the nonviolent movement will surely motivate more groups and individuals to take this lesson from the Egyptian people and acknowledge that violent strategies are too costly and only serve to justify state repression and violent intervention.
Now, will this obvious lesson also be learned by the Pentagon?