By Karu Jayasuriya
Deputy Leader UNP
Sri Lanka and the rest of the eastern world awoke to scenes of jubilation in the Egyptian capital Cairo, where 18 days of largely peaceful pro-democracy protests finally saw President Hosni Mubarak, being compelled to step down and give in to the fierce demands of his people. The military, which played a pivotal role in ensuring that the three week protest did not descend into a bloodbath on the streets of Cairo by refusing to turn on its citizens, has taken over while Egypt embarks on the long road towards true democracy.
Watching history being made in Egypt, where a 30 year tyranny is being replaced by hopes of liberty and freedom, we cannot help but be profoundly moved by the monumental significance of this event. To win their demands for the removal of President Mubarak, whose oppression and tyranny the people endured in exchange for stability and peaceful conditions in their nation for three long decades, the young people of Egypt did not employ violence or terrorism. This is the overarching beauty of this revolt – that it succeeded in spite of, or perhaps because of, its non-violent nature.
We are truly privileged to have witnessed such a defining moment in modern history. Like those that will forever remember the fall of the Berlin Wall that saw eastern Europe’s liberation from Communism, the ouster of one of the world’s longest reigning autocrats, Hosni Mubarak by the sheer might of the Egyptian people, will be etched in the collective memory of this generation, providing hope, inspiration and comfort to the oppressed and striking terror into the hearts of politicians who seek to tyrannize over their populations throughout the world.
And therein lies the hope for those of us in Sri Lanka, who witness with each passing day, the dictatorial aspirations of the current regime. Our hope is rekindled and we are reawakened by the reiteration of this historical truth: that every tyrant shall have his day of reckoning and that pharaohs and kings will only reign as long as their people allow them to.
People argue that Sri Lanka is no Egypt, and that the Sri Lankan president is no Mubarak. But there are parallels to be drawn here, because while they may differ in appearance, every autocrat speaks the same language, plays the very same game. Hosni Mubarak thought he would rule Egypt forever. Eighty two years old and still sporting jet black hair, Mubarak believed until 24 hours before he was forced to step down, that even though he would not contest the country’s next election, it was his son Gamal who would emerge victorious in scheduled polls in September this year. Until last night, Mubarak was so intoxicated by his own power and personality cult that he failed to fathom the anger out on the streets. The Mubarak family had amassed phenomenal wealth, dreamt of dynastic succession, lay aside the rule of law, freedom of expression and unleashed the secret police upon their people. In an election held in November 2010, just three months before one of the biggest popular revolts the world has seen, Mubarak’s ‘party’ won 97% of the ‘vote’ to secure near-absolute control of the country’s legislature.
Burma’s iconic freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi once said that “there is an inevitable sameness about the challenges of authoritarian rule anywhere at any time, so there is a similarity in the intrinsic qualities of those who rise up to meet the challenge”. It is this common creed that binds those peaceful protestors in Cairo’s Liberation Square, the people who risk life and limb demanding freedom for Burma and Tunisia, and those of us in this tiny island clamouring for a return to the tradition of democracy and freedom.
Human beings cannot live on the promise of bread alone. The human condition craves greater liberty, has loftier aspirations. Martin Luther King was quoted last morning by US President Barack Obama. Mr. King said of the birth of a new nation in Ghana – “there is something in the soul that cries out for freedom”. Today we might mortgage our civil liberties in exchange for relative stability, the promise of development and an illusion of ‘peace’. But the day will come when Sri Lankans too, feel that something in their souls that cries out for true liberty. The day will come, when all Sri Lankans believe that we deserve more than a corrupt regime that is siphoning the nation’s wealth; that we deserve a government that allows us to speak freely and live in dignity. A day when we realize that the power to make a change lies within ourselves.
On Friday, Hosni Mubarak thought he was invincible; that his reign was forever. Today, he is another aging dictator on the run, his assets frozen, his cronies displaced and hounded. Today the long-suppressed media and civil servants in Egypt are revealing the lies the regime made them propagate. Egyptians are tasting true freedom for the first time, and they are loving it. Mubarak may have served his country once, but by attempting to perpetuate his reign forever, he outstayed his welcome. No doubt the cries of Egypt’s people, demanding ‘Mubarak- get out!’ are still ringing in the ex-President’s ears.
There are deep lessons for all Sri Lankans, oppressed and oppressor alike, in the peoples’ revolt that changed the course of Egyptian history, and the world, last night.
Let us take note. Let us take heart. We are not alone.