Politics

"This is the first time in my life I get to say what I think in public"

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Vachement bien!

As someone who has called Thomas L. Friedman (among other insults and animations) the worst successful columnist in America, I'm happy to report that the flat-worlder has gone back to his roots as a Middle East correspondent and produced a piece about Egypt that's well worth reading. Sample:

In 40 years of writing about the Middle East, I have never seen anything like what is happening in Tahrir Square. In a region where the truth and truth-tellers have so long been smothered under the crushing weight of oil, autocracy and religious obscurantism, suddenly the Arab world has a truly free space — a space that Egyptians themselves, not a foreign army, have liberated — and the truth is now gushing out of here like a torrent from a broken hydrant.

What one hears while strolling around are all the pent-up hopes, aspirations and frustrations of Egyptians for the last 50 years. I know the "realist" experts believe this will all be shut down soon. Maybe it will. But for one brief shining moment, forget the experts and just listen. You have not heard this before. It is the sound of a people so long kept voiceless, finally finding, testing and celebrating their own voices.

"We got a message from Tunis," Hosam Khalaf, a 50-year-old engineer stopped me to say. "And the message was: Don't burn yourself up; burn up the fear that is inside you. That is what happened here. This was a society in fear, and the fear has been burned." Khalaf added that he came here with his wife and daughter for one reason: "When we meet God, we will at least be able to say: 'We tried to do something.'"

This is not a religious event here, and the Muslim Brotherhood is not running the show. This is an Egyptian event. That is its strength and its weakness — no one is in charge and everyone in the society is here. You see secular girls in fashionable dress sitting with veiled women. You see parents pushing their babies wearing "Mubarak must leave" signs. You see students in jeans and peasants in robes. What unites all of them is a fierce desire to gain control of their future.

"This is the first time in my life I get to say what I think in public," said Remon Shenoda, a software engineer. "And what is common here is that everyone wants to say something."

There are plenty of reasons to be wary about what will eventually replace the Mubarak regime. But there are few things in the world more genuinely moving than watching masses of people suddenly discovering and exercising long-buried freedoms.