The People Would be Free

I watched and listened today as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak went on national television and told the thousands of people thronged in Tahrir Square that he is not leaving office, not until September,

His words made the already agitated yet anticipatory crowd angry. They had already heard him say he would not seek re-election and would leave office in September, and they had flat out rejected his overture. They are tired of his leadership and they want him out, and they have not changed their minds.

They were agitated today because of the overall situation and because they have apparently suffered under the Mubarak regime. They have felt oppressed and disrespected and they are tired of it …yet they were anticipatory, hopeful, when they heard that Mubarak would speak on television. Surely, they thought, that meant he had heard their cries and felt their pain …and would leave office now.

It was not the case, however. President Mubarak appeared to be trying to conciliatory, yet he was indignant. He would NOT be forced out of office. He was sure that the people were only as agitated and disturbed as they were because of “outside influences.”

When he said that, I went into a zone. I listen to life and its happenstances with the ears of an African American woman who has studied history, specifically the history of African Americans in America. The hue and cry during the Civil Rights era was that black people were only clamoring for rights, including the right to vote, because of “outside influences.” Back then, those outside influences were thought to be the Communists. Even as a child I thought that it was kind of stupid for people to blame everything on Communists, especially something as basic as people wanting to be free.

When slaves wanted their freedom, again it was said to be due to Yankee influence, “outside people influencing our nigras” Every time I have read something like that I have cringed, and so, when I heard Mubarak go the “outside influences” route today, I cringed again.

Though the Founding Fathers didn’t intend, when they wrote “all men are created equal,” for that phrase to apply to everyone, black, brown, red and white, male and female, the fact is that all people were in fact created equal, and all humans desire to be free from oppression. Even if people submit to oppression for a while, they will rebel after a time, because no human being was meant to be controlled by another.

That is a basic principle that Mr. Mubarak apparently does not understand. If his government has been as oppressive as the people indicate, then they have been smoldering for a while, yearning to be free, and looking for an opportunity to claim that freedom, just like African Americans, slave and free, did.

Cinque, the African on the ship Amistad, said, once accused of treason and tried in the United States, “Give us free.” He risked his very life to be free and to be treated as human being, as did thousands of slaves who chose to jump overboard rather than be enslaved and treated as chattel. There was no need for “outside influences.”

American news reporters are voicing disapproval for Mr. Mubarak’s consistent reference to “outside influences,” probably not aware of how Americans used that same phrase when African Americans fought to be free.

Here’s what I know: once the seed that grows the desire for freedom takes root, there is no turning back. One CNN news report said that the people gathered in the streets of Cairo are not afraid; indeed, one Egyptian man said on camera, “I am not afraid anymore. I am not afraid to die for my freedom.”

When people are not afraid, they cannot be stopped. There are no “outside influences” working in Egypt. The people, Mr. Mubarak, would be free. God knows.

The people …would be free.

And that’s a candid observation.

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