“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” So said Nelson Mandela in his book, ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’.
I’d like you to hold that thought, while we turn our attention to Egypt where so much upheaval is taking place, and where one’s faith in humanity can be tested. Granted, this may be Spring 2.0, and yes, it may be a continuation of a journey that began two years ago, and so many more in the making, or it may be a correction; either way, the streets are full, emotions are running high, blood is being spilt, and less and less food is making its way to the table.
Events need to take their natural course, and I understand that when a crowd of millions have a disagreement, they cannot be expected to resolve them in the way two logical people would. However, the turn of events is a luxury Egypt can ill afford, for with the passing of every day, with every additional injury and with every new death, the Egyptian people are being hurtled towards the abyss of poverty. This will create a tidal wave of dispossession that, should it collide with the political unrest, will generate an even bigger storm that will truly test Egypt’s mettle. Pray that this will be avoided, and that the country will not be tested beyond what it can handle.
There is a lot that I love about Egypt. I am in awe of the example its people continue to set for the region in particular and the world at large, and the expectations they may be defying. Perhaps in my naïveté I am hoping that we will be surprised once again in the manner they adopt to resolve their political differences, and in focusing on the challenge beyond the immediate massive challenge. Then, the example will be even more awe-inspiring. Ultimately, the will of the people will reign supreme, but how they will get there and in what manner will determine what the future holds for a much wider region.
Mandela has some wisdom that we can all use, but Egypt may find it rather timely advice: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” This is the opportunity that Egypt is facing today. I realize this is easier said than done, and I accept that it is not my place to speak for I am outside that environment completely.
But, let’s think about it for a short while. What if the conversation were to change? What if the fight were to be redirected from who governs, or deserves to run the country, to who is best qualified to develop and implement a poverty-killing programme? What if the opposing parties were to get together to create working teams that are representative of the population, and pour all that energy, angst, passion and conviction into coming up with ideas of how the economy can be stimulated? What if they were to implement solutions that would create micro economies and rural trading posts that would employ more and more, if not most of the unemployed that are occupying the squares? Imagine what they would be able to achieve. Imagine the new face of Egypt, if that were to happen? Imagine what the news headlines would be. Imagine what the spirit would feel like, and just imagine the feats they would be able to accomplish, and what a slap it would be in face of the past sixty years for a people to have collectively cracked their biggest, longest and most entrenched challenge; a challenge that has gone unresolved under the watchful eyes of past leaders. Just imagine how awesome and awe-inspiring it would be.
Imagine what the above would mean to the region, that a longstanding economically-challenged Egypt has been able to create a first, and has been able to put its people on the road to prosperity. It will create a positive seismic wave that will not only reverberate across the region, but will make the rest of the world take notice. Can you imagine how much the conversation will change, and what disenfranchised people across the region will turn their energies to?
Nelson Mandela went through an ordeal of a journey but he turned it into such an incredibly rich life – for him as a person, for the entire nation of South Africa, and for the rest of world. Along the way, and inspired by his phenomenal journey, he shared timely and pertinent pieces of wisdom and greatness that inspired a country and made it rise to meet its destiny. Today, Egypt is in desperate need for greatness to lift it up, to enable it to rise and take charge of fighting the right human fight, and, in doing so, become the beacon the rest of us crave.
South Africa will not be alone in missing Mandela, for he has truly become a son of the world. Egypt may feel, on the other hand, that it will miss him more than most because he has courage, and he inspired others to look beyond fear. Egypt will miss him more because he has what it badly needs, someone with courage and who can inspire others to look beyond fear.