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Egypt's Civil Disobedients

Thomas Whitley

Since the beginning of the pro-democracy protests in Egypt a main foundation has been peaceable demonstrations. This foundation has remained strong even in the face of outright patronizing and stubbornness by President Hosni Mubarak in his most recent speech. The anger of the crowd was palpable. Shoes were thrust into the air (an extreme insult in the Arab world). The disappointment was real. Yet, in the midst of it all the protestors have remained non-violent. They are, in a sense, practicing civil disobedience. This is a phrase that should be well-known by Americans - though I fear few actually understand it or have read Thoreau's words on it. As I, along with the rest of the world, watch the peaceful protestors in Cairo's Tahrir Square, I am reminded of some of Thoreau's words:

I do not wish to kill nor to be killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which both these things would be by me unavoidable.

Many protestors in Tahrir Square have unequivocally stated that they are willing to die for democracy; willing to die for freedom. I suspect that these words by Thoreau sum up their perspective rather well. They want to live to see the freedom and democracy that many have dreamed of their entire lives, yet they are keenly aware of the possibility that this fight may cost them their lives.

Thoreau was correct when he wrote,

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

That may well have been the case for the past three decades in Egypt, but it is no longer. The Egyptian people have seen and tasted freedom. They have put off fear in exchange for hope. Their resolve is unquestionable. Their spirit contagious. They are Egypt's civil disobedients.