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And Free Flows the Nile

NEW DELHI – For 18 days, during the ebb and flow of protest, it did not seem possible that the end of the Egyptian Revolution would come so suddenly, in a terse announcement that lasted no more than a half-minute: “President Hosni Mubarak has relinquished office….” With that, amidst roars of victory, an era was ended, reaffirming the old saying that “the graveyards of the world are full of those who considered themselves indispensable to their nations.”

In the days and weeks ahead, there could arise occasions when the news from Cairo is not uplifting, but let us never forget that Egypt has taken a giant step, which in reality is a giant step for all Arabs. After all, Egypt is the heart, brain, and nerve center of the Arab world. True, it once spawned the radical Muslim Brotherhood, but it also gave birth to Islamic socialism and anti-colonialism, Arab unity, and now a democratic affirmation of the people’s will. Pernicious talk that Arabs do not want democracy has been exposed as the big lie it is.

Egypt, in the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s memorable words, is the land “where the head is (now) held high and the mind is (now) without fear…” The consequences will be vast. Ancient Arab lands are bestirred. Decades-old, apparently immovable autocracies are finding their hold on power unhinged; change is invading their static environs. Yesterday’s treaties, particularly those with the United States and Israel, will no longer inspire the same type of confidence they have long had as instruments of state policy.

Memory of these 18 days is so crowded that it is difficult to separate one event from another, one phase from the next: the dramatic, the moving, the bizarre, and the unreal from the bathetic. But the thread that united all, the theme that remained unerringly constant, was the yearning for “change” – immediate, real, and tangible, not a promise or a tantalizing, unreachable mirage.