Huntington Beach Independent

Posted by Huntington Beach Independent on May 23, 2012 in News Clips

Something amazing is happening.

Something I only dreamed about and thought it would always remain a dream.

For the first time in Egypt's thousands of years of existence — a history marked with glory and failures — its citizens are deciding who should lead them as president.

I used to think I'd see peace between the Palestinians and Israelis before I saw the birth of democracy in Egypt.

It wasn't because I didn't think Egyptians weren't capable. I knew all along that my people were brave, that they could break away from the shackles of dictatorship, that they knew they deserved better. I just felt that Egyptians were too kind, too forgiving, too accepting — even too thankful — of their conditions to demand something better.

When Egyptians took to Tahrir Square, I wasn't shocked, but excitement and pride took over my entire being. When Mubarak stepped down, I cried with relief.

When the first-ever presidential debate between the top two candidates was playing on Egyptian television two weeks ago — with people hovering over it in homes and hookah cafes like they do for soccer games — I was jumping in my chair at the office. And now, as they stand in miles-long lines to vote, my heart is beating with joy.

But then there are those Negative Nancys out there who say democracy in Egypt and the Arab world isn't gonna happen, because, you know, it's already been a year and a half and democracy and order hasn't taken over Egypt yet.

For those who think democracy happens overnight, that it's not a tedious and frustrating process, that each of its steps doesn't take hard work, failure, sweat and sacrifice, let me remind you of America's road to democracy.

Not every American wanted independence from the British. There wasn't just one unified military, but several groups, each with its own mission and agenda.

Even after independence, there were many failures leading up to the writing of the Constitution. And it took many fights and long nights to get it done for the majority of Americans to agree we should be the United States of America. Why would it be any different somewhere else?

But, of course, uncertainty is looming. That pathetic uncertainly! Always hanging around, taunting me, bursting my bubble!

I listened to the founder and president of theWashington, D.C.-based Arab American Institute, James Zogby, speak Thursday at the World Affairs Council of Orange County about Arab voices and what they're saying to us.

Zogby, an internationally acclaimed author and commentator, was critical of the U.S. government's attitude toward the Arab world, of how Americans place Arabs in one box and how Washington traditionally refuses to acknowledge its mistakes or learn from them.

But he said hope is on the horizon.

When I asked him what he predicted would happen in Egypt and how it would impact the rest of the Arab nations, he said something that made me smile and instilled more pride in my native Egypt. He said when Egyptians revolted, it was like a great play making it onto Broadway.

Great plays don't start on Broadway, Zogby said. They start somewhere else, like Connecticut. But then if they reach Broadway, you know they've made it onto the world's stage, bound for a lasting impact.

Tunisia, which started the Arab Spring, is like Connecticut, he said. But Egypt — Egypt is Broadway!

When Zogby compared Egypt to Broadway, I started picturing Broadway, its beauty, timelessness, drama and greatness, and how Egypt and its uprising resemble it in many ways. Then I got back to listening to Zogby's answer.

Zogby said we know for a fact that whoever gets elected president is not going to have the same power Mubarak had, and we don't know exactly how things will unfold, but that is in itself exciting.

Zogby didn't seem to worry about the kind of government Egypt will end up with as much as he worries about its economy. He said a public-private partnership to get Egyptians back on their feet is the way to go.

You must wonder what I think should be the role of Islam in a democratic Egypt. Like America's values, which are based on the traditions of the Abrahamic (mainly Christian) faiths, Egypt's principles should be based on Islamic values.

As far as I'm concerned, no government should tell me how to worship or who to worship. Faith and modesty don't come from the government, but from within. Egyptians will eventually catch up with that, but it takes time.

There's been a lot of talk about the status of Copts in the new Egypt, with some arguing that their rights will be minimized, but I refuse to think of them as a minority. In fact, I didn't know what minority meant until I came to the United States.

Egypt's Copts are not a minority — they are Egyptians. They should never feel threatened in their own home, and if they do, then shame on all the Egyptian Muslims for letting it happen.

Egyptians are a diverse group of people, but they are united in demand of a government that will let them live a dignified, free life. They are united for an Egypt filled with opportunities for their children and the generations to come, and if this next government doesn't give Egyptians what they want, I bet you they'll be back to Tahrir Square — because once you're on Broadway, there's no stepping down.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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