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The face of a defeated Hosni Mubarak staring through an enclosure of wired mesh in a Cairo courtroom will probably define the times of the Arab Spring. If Tahrir Square became a metaphor for the voice of suppressed people ringing through the Arab World, Mubarak’s face, with his trademark dark shades, turned into a marquee of arrogance — so very characteristic of dictators who later stuck out amid the jagged contours of the revolution. Friday will mark two years of the Egyptian revolution, a cataclysmic event that brought about one of the most important changes in the region—the challenge to authority, to dictatorial designs that worked over decades to subvert the freedom of millions. A challenge to a head of state, called a president, but no more than a supremo surrounded by fawning lackeys.
The first spark of the revolution in the Arab world started in Tunisia where an unemployed youth died of self-immolation.
In Egypt, the depredations of Mubarak gave enough strength to the masses to turn out in droves at Tahrir. The siege of the landmark square for months-on-end brought it in focus, so that international media started converging there. Pictures of thousands of youth shouting anti-regime slogans crystallized opinion against a corrupt regime known more for its authoritarian streak, corruption and misgovernance. The youth of Tahrir had been brought up on stories of police excesses and rights violations by the military.
It was not long before Mubarak’s men started riding roughshod over the protesters. Stories abound of his partymen ploughing through demonstrators on camels as security forces looked the other way.
As atrocities on those in the forefront of the revolution increased, it was technology that was the winner. A Google executive became the face of the revolution as social media worked to spread the message against an oppressive regime. Though the West, including the United States, made some noises, its role in propping up the protests was marginal in the least. In came the elections and with it, the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohammed Mursi’s anointment as the new Egyptian president brought with it some alarm about Islamist forces gaining ground after the toppling of a dictator. Mursi has been facing the heat over his Islamist credentials and the draft constitution framed by the government has come under intense glare by secularists.
Mursi has a tough job to do. He has to reconcile the interests of the Muslim majority with the aspirations of a largely insecure Christian community. There are challenges ahead— the economy has become shaky, tourism has suffered and foreign reserves are dwindling. All this amid constant walloping by the opposition and glare of the international community. It is for Mursi to decide which side of history he wants to sit on. A progressive path will lead Egypt to stability and prosperity while a regressive one will reverse the gains from the revolution.