How Egypt Inspired A Generation Of Young Arabs

I think, for the most part, the non-Arab world may never quite understand the connection Arabs have to Egypt. While the orientalist tendency has always been to lump everyone in this region in to one group, there is a failure to recognize the intricacies that weave in to the social fabric that blankets the Arab world. For us, Egypt has always been umm il dunya; the cradle of life, the bedrock, the architect. My generation of 20-something year olds grew up in the shadow of our fathers’ heroes, predominantly the architect of Pan Arab nationalism, Egypt’s Nasser. It is still, after all these years, often considered a sin bordering on social suicide to insult the memory of Nasser, whether you live in Jordan or Iraq. And we accepted it for a long time. Because there were no heroes. We have been searching in the darkness for the light switch, for the appearance of a leader. We have even conjured up ancient heroes, romanticizing their very existence. Turning history in to legend. Because we have been waiting and no one has appeared.

We assumed that if one day an uprising emerged, it would be at the hands of a bold leader. Another strongman to replace the ones we didn’t like. Never, in our wildest imaginations, did we think this uprising would come from the people. Never did we believe that Egypt, a country that had most convinced only a few weeks before January 25th, that this was a country destined for doom; a country that would collapse under the rubble of poverty and corruption and become the very metaphor of a crumbling Arab world. And with it, place the final nail in the coffin of Nasser’s dream. Never did we think our generation, a generation we ourselves have often labeled as apathetic and alienated – never did we think this would be the generation to lead the uprising. That it would be a leader-less uprising. A secular and ideological-free revolution. A genuine uprising of the people, for the people.

Never did we imagine it would happen peacefully. Never did we imagine millions and millions gathering around a city center. Never did we imagine them refusing to leave; of finishing a journey that has so often been abandoned. Never did we imagine they would write for us a new history. For this has been the failure of the orientalist view – the failure to recognize the relationship of one Arab to another, and of all Arabs to Egypt. The failure to recognize that what happens in Egypt does not stay in Egypt, and what Egyptians did for themselves, they did for the entire Arab world. Every Arab citizen glued to a television screen these past few weeks has been thinking the same thing. They have felt it under their skin, and deep in their bones.

The Egyptian youth have demonstrated for us possibilities we never imagined unfolding within the confines of our region. They showed strength and resolve where we have grown up knowing nothing but weakness and acquiescence. They showed us peace when we have only experienced war. They showed us civility where we have been taught to pursue chaos. They persisted where we have learned to yield.

All of this they have done inadvertently, but they did it nonetheless. They have forced us as a population of youth, an entire generation, to look in the mirror and recognize one important fact: we are the majority. It is we who dictate to them – not the other way around. It is we who have the power to destroy in a matter of days and weeks, the cage that took them years to build around us.

We will wait to see what future Egyptians build for themselves, and its subsequent affect on us living outside its borders but close enough to feel the heat of the fire they began. We will wait to see if Egypt’s next chapter will be as sound and as peaceful as the one it has just finished writing. We will wait to see what happens, but whatever happens, this 18-day history is something no one can take away from them, or from us. It has been embedded in our memories, replacing all others. Because it is our memory. Not the memory of our fathers’. Not the memory dictated to us in faulty history books. Not old and collecting dust. It is a new history. And it is ours. Our own.

As a Jordanian, as an Arab, as a 20-something year old that has been searching for a hero, for inspiration, for a new history, for a new memory, for something to call my own – this is how I feel. This is me, thanking you.

Egypt, we kneel before you in awe.


  • Very well written. And here is an American that has watched the recent events with delight, anxious to see the people become strong, unified, and free.

  • Beautifully written, Nas! Having lived in Cairo for the last six months, I have to say, I don’t think most Egyptians thought they could do something like this, either! There’s new hope for the whole region, not just the Arabs, but the Iranians, the Turks, the Somalis, the Pakistanis…. These are exciting times we live in!

  • Isn’t the new military government just the same old military government that has been running Egypt since Farouk was thrown out?

    The Emergency is still in force.

  • Reverence for life revealed itself in Egypt, the cradle of life. Within each human being is a divine essence, an essence that connects us all. We saw this essence manifested in peaceful unity, another historical reminder of who we really are, of a hope beyond super heros and violence. There is another way to find resolutions honoring the being of each human.

  • One thing this must also mean is the end of Orientalism. People in the West h ave watched the people of Egypt topple their leader, and we have seen ourselves. Or we have seen who we wish we could be, vis-a-vius our own would-be tyrants.

    I was reminded of a poem by Shelley and suddenly realized that what Shelley merely wished the English would do, the Egyptians actually did:

    Thanks for a very strong post, Nas. Yes, we stand humbled before the achievement of the youth of Egypt.

  • Moving post Naz.

    It was an immense accomplishment that can never be described with words. How the violence was overcome, how with the absence of security mass looting was avoided, so much was overcome in those days.

    However this is the most important time, and I hold a deep fear that what has been accomplished thus far is on the edge of being hi-jacked by interest groups. I don’t hold the same view of the Egyptian military as most Egyptians do (according to western media that is). I don’t trust them because they are a bunch of 70 something year old’s who have been entrenched in the leadership of the military forever. They have prospered along side Mubarak and stand to lose a lot if proper democracy and social justice are pursued fully. This is the most important time and I pray that Egyptian people continue to overcome all of this.

  • This is such a heartening article. Parts of it precisely express the feeling of optimism and wonder at the power of Egyptians that I feel right now. It brings a smile to my face.

    The road to building up a nation will be long and hard though, and we should look to ourselves as well, how to reform, recover, both personally, in our communities and in our nations. There is no need for violence, ill will or bad faith. That’s what I take from this.

  • هذا هو الشرق الاوسط الجديد الذي تريده امريكا لعيون اسرائيل والقادم سيثبت هذا

  • فكني من دموع التماسيح يا جمال ØŒ الآن صرت خايف علي ثورة مصر؟؟

  • كما قال الكاتب المصري الرصين عبد الحليم قنديل علي قناة الحوار ØŒ لقد مرت مصر بمرحلة الموت ولكن الخطر على الثورة لم يزول، الآن هناك القادة الكبار من العسكر والذين تربوا على أيادي الرئيس المخلوع حسني مبارك يستلمون الأوامر من وزارة الدفاع الأمريكية حيث الخطط الشيطانية قد بدائت تتبلور ØŒ حذاري لكل الشرفاء في مصر الحبيبة أن لا ينتزعو هذا الأنتصار من الثوار قبل فوات الآوان أن أقول لثوار مصر يجب الرجوع الي الميدان وكل الشوارع لتحقيق كل مطالب الشعب ولا تثقوا بلعسكر

  • من المرعب ان تعتقد الدمى في مسرح العرائس انها تصنع الاحداث

  • ومن هم هؤلاء الدمى ØŸ هل هم العروش المرتهنة للغرب أم هم الشعوب التي تصنع التاريخ؟

  • My son asked me the following question the day Mubarak stepped down.
    So Dad, how do you feel right now? put it in writing for us.
    Following was my answer:

    “Sigh of relief, it is in the hands of the military. In 1952 the military gave Egypt, so to speak, to the People, and in 2011 the people gave it to the Military. Was it Mubarak that gave it back to the Military establishment or was it the Military that wrestled it from him, not clear to me. In either play it was a coup of the military, for or against itself, not significant now.

    For years i have been asking myself and my friends what would happen if Mubarak croaks suddenly. Lately, before Jan 25 that is, I have been asking what is behind the clouds that fog Egypt future. I could only see one safety net, the military establishment

    My sigh of relief is because my fears of chaos and a potential illegitimate take over by the Theocratic forces or disgruntled parties have been smothered.

    I feel good, I feel great for Egypt, I feel good that Egypt has finally been awakened by its youth from within. Most of all I am happy that Jan 25 will replace, at least for me, July 23 as Egypt’s independence day. The latter being also a coup d’etat that continues to live in infamy.

    The saga continues, much pain ahead in the years of reckoning that follow. I am happy that the send-off was peaceful. Godspeed Egypt ”

    Additional thoughts from a Nasser generation man who is very very proud today of what Egypt’s youth have accomplished.
    Nasser had a dream to unite all Arabs. His dream turned into an infatuation that he took with him to the grave. Nasser supported all freedom movements in the Arab world as well as other places and for the most part mismanaged rather neglected Egypt hunger for freedom, democracy and economic prosperity. It all came at a heavy, burdensome price that Egyptians had to pay dear in blood and money. The time has come for the Youths of all the Arab world to remove despots everywhere- a few are leftovers from Nasser times- in the Arab world and unite to achieve what our generation has failed to achieve. Arab Unity

  • “As a Jordanian, as an Arab, as a 20-something year old that has been searching for a hero, for inspiration, for a new history, for a new memory, for something to call my own – this is how I feel. This is me, thanking you.

    Egypt, we kneel before you in awe.”

    Amazing from the heart words . Thank you for being and inspiration for young people of your age.

  • Yes, most of us are for freedom and true democracy, but beware:
    some of the middle class persons leading the current Egyptian revolution may become the bourgeois of the future, controlling money and politics = same old story. I think US and its M.E. allies are counting on that.. Even if there is some kind of democrary, that does not mean everyone will get his/her rights. Poor may stay poor, the looters (who were the hungriest and poorest) were mis-handled, or even tortured by some demonstrators playing sheriffs , this is a very bad sign. Back-fire !?

  • عنتررالمعنتر، شوا هل التحليل الرائع، ومنين جايب كل هذا الذكاء، الرجاء من المعلقين التعلم والأستفادة من عنتر المعنتر الذي يحمل أفكار عميقة وتحليلاات نادرة والتي ليس لها مثيل

  • “ The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody. ”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1754

  • Very well written. I was captivated by the events as they unfolded in Egypt and never would I have imagined I would see not one, but two Arab dictators toppled like this so soon!

  • القرضاوي بيخطب الجمعة في ميدان التحرير يا حسرتي على هيك ثورات فعلا شي مخزي اذا اترك الامر لمثل هؤلاء الدراويش

  • It is not just Arabs who are kneeling in awe. Many of my friends here in Europe, and family back in the US, are likewise touched, shocked, and moved to tears.

    Thank you for this post. It’s beautiful.

  • All is good and emotionally uplifting, however…however, I would like just to remind everybody about Jack Straw, the hypocritical and controversial British ex-Foreign Secretary who in his youth was, – guess who? – a radical student leader. The old adage ” Power corrupts” is here with us in every country of the world you look at: liberté and égalité or no liberté and égalité. So, for the time being I would keep my rose-colored glasses in their case.

    Oh, and to RashidH, I strongly recommend eye-opening book ‘A Game Player’ by Miles Copeland, former CIA operative, about “Muslim Billy Graham” Gamal Abdel Nasser helping the US to undermine Britain’s entrenchment in the region while duping the masses he and his promoted idea of Arab Pan-nationalism were their savior.

  • Jack Straw was a radical student leader because that was the right thing for his career. He has been a slimy politician all his life.

    “Radical” usually means “spouting the currently popular cant”.

  • Jack Straw “…became a national student leader known for radical positions, to the point of being described by the Foreign Office as a “troublemaker acting with malice aforethought” for his political activity involving Chile”. Tell me how that was helpful for a political career at the time? Decades later he became a politician with “… a reputation, particularly amongst human rights groups and left-wingers, as one of the most right-wing frontbenchers in the then cabinet.” From left-wing idealist to right-wing shrewd politician. Proves my point, I think.

  • While the orientalist tendency has always been to lump everyone in this region in to one group, there is a failure to recognize the intricacies that weave in to the social fabric that blankets the Arab world.

    This is a confusing assertion. How is this an “orientalist tendency?” Arabs describe themselves as a unified and cohesive group at least as frequently as Western academics do so. Your own comments about Pan-Arabism and Nasser lie in that vein. It was Nasser, as I recall, who ignored such differences when he attempted to form a federal union with Syria back in the late 50’s/early 60’s. The way I see it, a big part of the problem is that Arabs have still got a bad case of Nasseritis.

    I think US and its M.E. allies are counting on that..

    I think the US just sees an area of the world where democracy isn’t likely to be sustainable. Why back a losing horse? If America thought the region would be more stable under democracy, like modern Europe, then it would be much less hesitant to back democratic movements in the Arab world. I hope the Egyptians can lay the groundwork for a stable society where differences of political and religious opinion are easily tolerated.

    Everyone claims to support democracy in theory, especially when democracy would be the easiest vehicle to getting what they want. In practice, once somebody doesn’t get what they’ve demanded in the Arab world, support for the democratic process often evaporates.

    Everyone also claims to support free speech until that speech is deemed “offensive.” The entire point of having free speech is because some speech is offensive. Nobody complains about inoffensive speech. If the United States, upon its founding, had opted for a “no offense” policy among its myriad of Christian denominations, then the country would be far less democratic today.

    In forming a democratic state, less attention should be paid to meeting the particular demands of the interested parties in the present and more given to ensuring the state can handle the demands of any and all future parties. An abiding respect for these constitutional principles and processes among the population at large is essential. Democracy has to mean something more than, “Give me what I want because I’ve got the most votes today and when I don’t have the votes tomorrow, I’ll start making undemocratic noises.” I’m not sure Arabs have evolved to that point yet. And I’m not certain that a modern Naguib Mahfouz could write what he wanted without having to look over his shoulder anymore than could the late Mahfouz.

    I’m not optimistic, but I hope that Egyptian political life will defy my low expectations.

  • ” As the uprising here intensified in recent weeks, Sheik Qaradawi had used his platform to urge Egyptians to rise up against Mr. Mubarak. His son, Abdul-Rahman Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is an Egyptian poet who supported the revolution, and, though Sheik Qaradawi is considered a religious traditionalist, three of his daughters hold doctoral degrees, including one in nuclear physics.” source

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