2/11/2011

Putting a Smile on Human Dignity.


The stamina, and a victorious resolve of the people of Egypt brings back memories. For some of us, who experienced the 1980 Solidarity protests, and the ultimate collapse of the regime in Poland, smiles and tears painted our faces when the announcement was made that the Egypt's strongman, Hosni Mubarak, has stepped down. The message, the sounds and the images coming from Cairo, as then they did from Gdansk, meant simply - a victory for human freedom, rights and dignity.


It was the late Summer of 1980, when the Poles took to the streets, Lech Walesa become an icon of human solidarity, and with scores of brave citizens marched and did not give-up, until the changes were ushered in. There was plenty of tear gas and the hundreds of security thugs attacking the crowds. It was similar and at once different in scope in Poland, and in Egypt. The stamina of the Egyptian women, men and children to be resolute and peaceful - a dignified movement of saying 'No!' - will be the image we will remember. A social movement cum national movement put a smiling face on human dignity once again. In Egypt, the use of social media undergirded the intensity of the protest. It brought thoughts of nostalgia when it was the leaflets and monitored phone calls that aided the Gdansk and Warsaw solidarity movement. New technology for human rights, I said to myself. It works and will expand our opportunities to speak the message of freedom. Instantly, and everywhere.


Remembering the demonstrations in Warsaw, we were there, too. Our two-year old Michal got a taste of a tear gas cloud as we run, and carried him out of danger while we joined in a moment of history. He will not remember this, but as we later recalled our stories, he smiled with pride.


Not easy to gather coherent thoughts while still watching a TV set pregnant with human tears and jubilation in Tahrir Square. What transpires is a reaffirmation about our human destiny - life in freedom. This freedom is to be cherished and continue propel all of us to etch a life of respect and love.


For the people of faith, it all underscores that we flourish when we are free to express ourselves and practice our beliefs without undue restrictions and intimidation. In the days ahead, the Egyptians will be tested by how freedom will shake its hands with responsibility. Will their daily practice of full respect for the freedom of conscience be an example in the Middle East? The nation will flourish if conditions of social harmony are created and defended. Our brothers and sisters in Egypt should also expect the world-wide humanity will step forward to embrace them.


The Egyptian people - in their social, cultural and religious diversity - took a historical turn on their national road. They are reclaiming their everydayness in a newly found freedom in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez. Though there will be hard days to experience in the future, the peaceful social revolution of the Tahrir Square bids well for the future of the country. You did it, Egyptians!

2 comments:

  1. Dear Sir,

    It is nice that you engaged in the same profession as we were busy with. May God bless you in this endeavor. T P Kurian

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  2. I'm not sure if I will be able to repeat my relatively long piece of writing on the blog. [...]

    The piece that I had written was a response to your writing of running away from a protest carrying Michael. I found this very moving and with tears in my eyes, I wrote back of some of the very precious memories I have of my own children's participation in what is known here as 'the struggle'. I won't remember all that I wrote but it referred to our two son's - Nathan and Timothy - involvement with an organisation known as the 'End Conscription Campaign' but also them being part of a group of 23 white - mainly Afrikaans speaking - young men who publicly declared that they would not go for military training which was compulsory for all white males after leaving high school or university (a criminal offence). Our home at that time also became a repository for keeping t-shirts and documents away from the prying eyes of the law.

    Nathan was also one of a group who I remember on their knees, surrounded by police, singing onward Christian Soldiers while I raced across town to try and get permission for the march to a local sawmill to take place. (There is much detail which would take pages to write) I got permission - from the mayor - which was in fact not the legal permission we needed - and raced back to the event where the police had then to release all the 'marchers' who had already been loaded into the police vehicle/truck and in fact accompany them on the march.

    During a very troubled time when Mr Mandela had been transferred from the Island to Pollsmoor prison, Dr Alan Boesak (a name that may be familiar to you) arranged for a really significantly large march from Lansdowne (a Cape Town 'coloured' suburb) to Pollsmoor Prison to demand Mr Mandela's release. Marisa was an honours student in Journalism at the time and - against the advice from her professor - went to the march to try an photograph as much as she could. I asked the boys to accompany her and to see that she was safe.
    Marisa was quite close to the front of the start of the march when the police were given the command to 'charge'. She was caught up by the charging police and arrested and put into a police truck, As the truck passed the boys they recognised her hand sticking through the grid. The Afrikaans newspaper headings the next day referred to 'Maties (a name given to Stellenbosch University students) (there was another Stellenbosch university student who was at the march) in Arres (Maties arrested).

    All this came to mind when you had written that when you tell Michael about these things dealing with Poland of which he has no memory, he just smiles. It was his smile that brought these memories and many more, to my mind.

    I'm very proud that my children played some small part in our South African 'struggle' as I am sure that Michael is proud of his mom and dad.

    Victor Honey, Stellenbosch

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