If you were like me, the Egyptian Revolution that unfolded over the past several weeks and culminated (for the moment) in President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster on Friday was a complicated thing to know how to react to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not like Glenn Beck prophesying the coming Luthor/Braniac-style Communist/Islamist team-up against the West, nor am I even a more run-of-the-mill conservative commentator rumbling ominously about the power of the Muslim Brotherhood. And my feelings upon seeing untold millions of ordinary, unarmed people weather the attacks of government goons quads and kick out a man who’s looted and tortured them and their country for decades (in part at America’s behest) with nonviolent protest was unalloyed joy.
But how to express that joy? Should I, even? After all, I know no more about the real political situation inside Egypt than any of the overnight experts who suddenly popped up to opine on the talk shows and cable news nets. My information was coming primarily from Al Jazeera English’s invaluable live-streaming broadcast on its website and from the Twitter streams of international and native Egyptian reporters on the ground, and from the relative oasis of calm analysis that was MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and its dialogues between host Maddow and correspondent Richard Engel. Was that enough?
Moreover, what good would it have done anyone, really, for me to change the color of my Twitter avatar (as I did during the ill-fated Iranian protest movement) and repeatedly retweet rah-rah messages of support? I’ve learned from bitter experience — though nowhere near as bitter as the experiences of the actual participants involved — that cheerleading for Freedom on my blog or Twitter feed from the comfort of my sofa while real people fight and die for it in their hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands half a world away ends up feeling like a grotesque charade. Simply put, it’s not my ass on the line. I watched pundits like MSNBC’s Ed Schultz wonder aloud, with audible impatience, when the people would “march on the presidential palace and get something done” — as if this were a movie, as opposed to events in which an action like that could lead to the deaths of countless real people and the destruction of the lives and families and futures of countless more. I loathe the idea of dictatorships and the carnival of human-rights abuses they engender, and the sight of people rising up against this moves me deeply, but I don’t find it exhilarating anymore. I think of the people who are putting their lives at risk and am too upset, almost nauseated, at the prospect to wave my pom-poms from the sidelines.
I think of all the reactions I’ve seen online to the momentous events in Egypt, “Egypt from 5,000 Miles Away,” a collaborative comic made by Sarah Glidden (How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less) and Domatille Collardey (What Had Happened Was…) of Brooklyn’s Pizza Island studio, may capture those conflicted feelings the best. Glidden and Collardey tell the very relatable story of how they followed the revolution via Al Jazeera English, tweeted back and forth with Egyptians at the scene, watched in horror as a camel-riding, whip-wielding, Molotov cocktail-tossing mob descended on the defenseless protesters, lost both hope and (this is key) interest when it seemed the protests were petering out, watched in stunned disbelief when Mubarak’s much-anticipated resignation failed to materialize, thrilled when the revolution finally succeeded (for now, at least), and realized in the end that what was a pulse-pounding but entirely risk-free couple of weeks for them was just the start of months and years of great uncertainty and great promise for the people of Egypt themselves. Go and read it, and see if you see yourself in it as well.