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February 11, 2011

OBAMA: EGYPTIANS 'BENT THE ARC OF HISTORY TOWARD JUSTICE ONCE MORE'.... If you missed President Obama's remarks on the democratic revolution in Egypt, they're worth watching. This was, to my mind, an excellent speech.

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I've included the full transcript after the jump, but pay particular attention to the president's praise for the Egyptian Army, which, for now, is responsible for maintaining order in the massive country.

"Good afternoon, everybody. There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place. This is one of those moments. This is one of those times. The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same. By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people's hunger for change. But this is not the end of each of transition, it is a beginning.

"I am sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered, but I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers and do so peacefully, constructively, and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks. Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day. The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state, and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people. That means protecting rights of Egypt's citizens, lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and other laws to make this change irreversible, and laying out a clear path to elections that are fair and free. Above all, this transition must bring all of Egypt voices to the table, for the spirit of peaceful protest and perseverance that the Egyptian people have shown, it can serve as a powerful wind at the back of this change.

"The United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt. We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary and ask for to pursue a credible transition to a democracy. I am also confident that the same ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that the young people of Egypt have shown in recent days can be harnessed to create new opportunities, jobs, businesses, that allow the extraordinary potential of this generation to take flight.

"I know that a democratic aide to can advantage role of responsible leadership, not only in the region but around the world. Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years. But over the last few weeks the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace as the Egyptian people demanded their universal rights. We saw mothers and fathers carrying their children on their shoulders to show them what true freedom might look like. We saw young Egyptians say, 'For the first time in my life I really count. My voice is heard. Even though I'm only one person, this is the way real democracy works.'

"We saw protesters chant, 'sel mia,' 'we are peaceful,' again and again. We saw a military that would not fire bullets at the people they were sworn to protect. And we saw doctors and nurses rushing into the streets to care for the wounded. Volunteers checking protesters to ensure that they were unarmed. We saw people of faith praying together and chanting, Muslims, Christians, 'we are one.' And though we know the strains of faith divide too many in this world and no single event will close that chasm immediately, these scenes show us that we need not be defined by our differences. We can be defined by the common humanity that we share. And, above all, we saw a new generation emerge, a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears.

"A government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations. One Egyptian put it simply -- most people have discovered in the last few days that they are worth something, and this cannot be taken away from them anymore. Ever. This is the power of human dignity, and it can never be denied. Egyptians have inspired us, and they've done so by putting the eye to the idea that justice is best gained through violence.

"For in Egypt it was the moral force of nonviolence, not terrorism, not mindless killing, but nonviolence, moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice once more. And while the sights and sounds that we heard were entirely Egyptian, we can't help but hear the echoes of history, echoes from Germans tearing down a wall, Indonesian students taking to the streets, Gandhi leading his people down the path justice.

"As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana while trying to perfect his own, 'There's something in the soul that cries out for freedom.' Those were the cries that came from Tahrir square and the entire world has taken note. Today belongs to the people of Egypt, and the American people are moved by these scenes in Cairo and across Egypt because of who we are as a people and the kind of world that we want our children to grow up in. The word 'Tahrir' means liberation. It's a word that speaks to that something in our souls that cries out for freedom. And forever more it will remind us of the Egyptian people, of what they did, of the things that they stood for, and how they changed their country and in doing so changed the world. Thank you."

Steve Benen 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Compare to the repub governor of Wisconsin who has announced he will take away rights from public employees and if it causes any unrest he has the National
Guard ready to control them!
Perhaps the National Guard there could take a lesson from the Egyptian military.

Posted by: joan on February 11, 2011 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

That was utterly moving.

Posted by: impik on February 11, 2011 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe now the Egyptian people will ask Glenn Beck to become the new Caliphate so they might keep China away from their geo-political region.

I guess if they do, they will have forced China to be satisfied with New Zealand, and Glenn will finally have the unadulterated power he has always had his eyes on! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 11, 2011 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

It seems there's nothing the U.S. Right fears more than the possibility that Obama could foster (to whatever degree) peace in the middle east and good relations with muslims of the world. ANY success will, and has as yet been, smeared as collusion with radical islamists to undermine the U.S.

If Obama met our supposed foreign policy objectives he'd be vilified MORE as an islamo-communist fifth columnist. The one thing that could repair his image with our Right would be holy war in the name of Christ, against muslims and the domestic left(-of-Reagan).

Posted by: CRA on February 11, 2011 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

I can't help but notice that what the Egyptians did in Tahrir Square and across their nation is a prototype of what is possible in this country. It is time for the people of the U.S. to take our country back from the authoritarians and power hungry militarists and restore peace and justice for all. What is happening in Congress with the cost-cutting to necessary and humanitarian services is criminal and should be addressed as the Egyptians addressed their brutal dictator. Let us shift our financial support from military to humanitarian. We can do it; we have been shown the way.

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
st john

Posted by: st john on February 11, 2011 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Is anyone keeping track of the right wing getting caught out in the open on this issue? Gingrich, Rumsfeld, NewsMax, FOX and others were all screaming about the incompetence of the administration, the evidence being that Mubarak was still there ...

... a couple hours later, he wasn't.


This would make a great weekend project for someone, to be presented to the right as a Valentine's Day gift on Monday.

Total self-immolation.

Posted by: JM on February 11, 2011 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

WOW! Simply WOW. And I agree 110% witth St. John's post above. We need a movement much like the Civil Rights movement or the one in Egypt where we as American's come together as a peaceful people who fight for the fundemental rights of ALL not just for the rich. The pendulum needs to swing back or we will have another decade like the 60's. Which I am begaing to think would be a good thing. The youth of this country need to stand up and be counted and care as much about their country as they do about Facebook and other social media. Social action needs to be the new montra for all of us who care about this country

Posted by: nodak on February 11, 2011 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

st john wrote: "I can't help but notice that what the Egyptians did in Tahrir Square and across their nation is a prototype of what is possible in this country."

You want the military to take power in the USA?

It remains to be seen what the Egyptian people are going to get. I hope they don't wind up living out that old song by The Who.

At the moment, the Mubarak dictatorship has been superseded by a military dictatorship, which is basically making the exact same promises about "reform" that Mubarak was making.

In fact the only real difference I can see between today and yesterday, is the physical location of Mubarak's person. Other than that, the military and the vice president are saying they will do the same things that Mubarak said yesterday he would do.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 11, 2011 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK
can't help but notice that what the Egyptians did in Tahrir Square and across their nation is a prototype of what is possible in this country.

Are you advocating that the Vice President and military force the President from office and present promises of, in the future, implementing some of the demands of the loudest domestic critics of the President, using those critics outrage and complaints as the pretext for seizing power?

Or are you, instead, just using the events in Egypt as a throwaway line to advocate something complete unrelated for which the events in Egypt are, in no rationale way, a "prototype"?

I'm really getting to the point where everytime someone tries to use the recent events in Egypt as an excuse to push their favorite U.S. political position, I really just want to respond with this: You're so vain, you probably think this coup is about you.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 11, 2011 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

WOW! Simply WOW. We really need a Million Man march on the National Mall to demand that 2 year dictator (Obama) step down and demand the military set up a democratic government!

Snark Off

We have this revolution every 2 years in the US. It's called an election.

You want a revolution? Get your supporters to vote. If you can't get enough like-minded supporters to vote, how many do you think will show up at the mall?

Posted by: fracas_futile on February 11, 2011 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Countries, and that includes the US, always do what is in the best interests of its Ruling Class.

Glenn Greenwald has a long article in Salon, detailing how the Justice Department, private security firms (filled with ex-CIA types), and Bank of America are apparently conducting a concerted effort to destroy WikiLeaks, and any media folks in its vicinity. I anticipate a thoughtful post on this by Steve Benen.

Posted by: DAY on February 11, 2011 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

"We saw protesters chant, 'sel mia,' 'we are peaceful,' again and again."

Oh... my..... GOD! Obama spoke ARABIC! And what's more..... Sel mia sounds just like SHARIA! He want's to impose Islamic Law on America!


Posted by: Eeyore on February 11, 2011 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Your transcription of the speech has some mistakes. Check it again. Some of the sentences don't make sense...

Posted by: Jan on February 11, 2011 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

For you people to even put yourself on a par with Egypt is the heighth of arrogance. WE get to VOTE. WE get to decide how we want our country to be. We don't have a theocracy or a military junta running our country. We may not like everything but we have the right to BITCH about it and then VOTE about it every two years. Egypt is where we were over 200 years ago. Quit playing the pity party song.

Posted by: SYSPROG on February 11, 2011 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

You don't detect a disconnect between Obama's words and his deeds? He wants to support the torturer in chief and still you find his empty words inspiring. Wow!

Posted by: par4 on February 11, 2011 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK
Egypt is where we were over 200 years ago.

If by "we" you mean the U.S., then, I think that's still overstating the case considerably. I don't think you'll find a good, even loose, parallel anywhere in U.S. history including the colonial period.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 11, 2011 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

You're so vain, you probably think this coup is about you.

cmdicely, you are the greatest.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on February 11, 2011 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Mahatma Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
What I am saying may seem far-fetched and "revolutionary" to some of you, but I think that what has happened in Egypt is a unique version of a peaceful revolution. As far a we know, around 300 people died and there are many who were imprisoned, but are probably still alive and will be freed soon. That is a very small number compared to what might have happened if the military were really motivated to act more violently. So, laugh at and impugn my ideas, but take some responsibility for creating a change by changing your minds about what is possible. Obama is not the source and he cannot stand alone for change. I still believe he is malleable to creative ideas. Look at the wo/man in the mirror and make a change, to paraphrase Michael Jackson.

Posted by: st john on February 11, 2011 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe in the catalog of good guys BHO could have mentioned those of us who fought against the Vietnam war, marching, arguing, protesting: who ended up (certainly not with the speed possible now) with the war's end and the elimination of the draft and ultimately amnesty. DFHs, of course; no one to be celebrated: let's talk about Indonesians (totally worthy); not fellow citizens.

Posted by: bfein on February 11, 2011 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Some of you people need to get a grip.

I don't think St. John implied that the issues facing this country are identical to the situation in Egypt and that it needs to be handled in similar way.

Yeah, we have elections and a democratically elected government, but the system has been corrupted to the breaking point. The top 1% have rigged the game so they win no matter who is in office. They own the media, the MIC, the healthcare system, and now they want to own the internet and coopt every governmental agency that still serves the public.

This country needs change on a tectonic level, and it may call for a public response as fierce as what's going on in Egypt. NOT THE EXACT SAME RESPONSE, but on our terms and according to our political system as it currently exists.

I hope the American public comes to their senses and completely rejects what the oligarchs are peddling. If they don't, there will be a lot of pain that will spark some form of popular backlash from the lower and middle classes.

This country was created from revolution. It's not immune from experiencing another one.

Posted by: bdop4 on February 11, 2011 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

I thought the president looked very tired.

Posted by: Seould on February 11, 2011 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, dbop4. You read my mind. Change does not happen with the same mindset that created the original conditions. As I have said, The way you gain it is the way your must (or probably will) maintain it. If the military is allowed to prevail over the peaceful demonstrators, who seem to be a very diverse cross-section of the Egyptian people, then we may see more of the same as the Mubarak regime. Somehow, I don't see that happening. The people in the military have families and friends among the demonstrators, and will be reluctant to attack them further with violence.

At least on this one we seem to be in agreement. I appreciated your earlier comment:
"My greatest hope is that true democracy can be born in one of the oldest civilizations on Earth.

Posted by: bdop4 on February 11, 2011 at 12:52 PM"

Posted by: st john on February 11, 2011 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

What I am saying may seem far-fetched and "revolutionary" to some of you, but I think that what has happened in Egypt is a unique version of a peaceful revolution.

In a sense, all revolutions are unique.

On the other hand, popular dissatisfaction coming to a peak resulting in a palace coup, with some violence but not mass violence, is actually, among ways that governments fall to internal forces, not all that uncommon.

That is a very small number compared to what might have happened if the military were really motivated to act more violently.

If, OTOH, the military were interested in obtaining absolute control of the institutions of government, then the violence is exactly what was required, since that is the situation that has been established.

We can talk about what the cost in lives is of establishing a democratic, popular regime in Egypt once that has actually happened, but it certainly hasn't yet.

So, laugh at and impugn my ideas

Okay, not that the presence of absence of your permission makes any difference.

but take some responsibility for creating a change by changing your minds about what is possible.

In what way, exactly, is my mind wrong about what is possible now that needs to change, and what on Earth does that have to do with your comparison to Egypt?

Obama is not the source and he cannot stand alone for change.

Obvious, and irrelevant.

I still believe he is malleable to creative ideas.

Maybe, maybe not. Certainly -- because we have, flawed though it is in many respects, a basically functional democratic system of government -- the U.S. government as a whole is somewhat responsive to pressure for change through regular channels, whether or not any particular individual in office is.

Which is precisely why comparisons to Mubarak's Egypt fails on the most basic level.

There's plenty of reason to call for change in the U.S.

There's plenty to say about what is going on in Egypt -- in terms of cheers for removing the existing dictator, acknowledgement of the risks associated with military rule, and, yes, hopes for how it might go well.

The two things, though, have almost nothing to do with each other, and there is no point in trying to piggyback one on the other.

The uprising in Egypt and the palace coup that has left the military in charge aren't about the U.S., and if all you can think to talk about is the need for change in the U.S., don't try to coat it with irrelevant references to Egypt. It doesn't help make your case.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 11, 2011 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

I just returned from Egypt. Before the demonstrations began it was clear to me that the people hated Mubarak and their hate was moving them toward a confrontation because Mubarak was putting his son into position to inherit his place in the government. Now the Egyptian protesters in the street have gotten their primary wish: Mubarak and his son are gone, but they are going to need luck to make this all turn out well.
They need the military to insure a peaceful turn over but they can't let the military put one of their own in Mubarak's place.
They have to maintain the peace between their Coptic Christians and Muslims that is a jewel in their crown, and this at a time when militant Muslims are trying to make trouble between the two factions. Otherwise they will lose the support of the world community.
And the new government has to find a way to solve the problems the people in the street were crying about: unemployment and hunger. Freedom won't be welcome long without economic improvement for the people. That sounds hard to me. They cannot do this without the help of the world community.
I hope Americans of both parties can find a way to work together to help in any way we can while realizing the limits to what we can do.

Posted by: Frank Logan on February 11, 2011 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

"...the Egyptian Army, which, for now, is responsible for maintaining order..." Steve Benen

This is what I hold Mubarak to task for; he was in power for three decades when Egypt faced no outside threats and STILL the country has to rely on the military to maintain order. Why?
Because there are few, if any, people in Egypt who are actually conversant with real, down-to-earth politics; the give and and take that occurs naturally in a democratic society to accomplish, hopefully, the goals of that society. The willingness to abide by the results shown by the contents of a ballot box.
Hopefully Egyptians WON'T go down the path of so many other countries with coups alternating between brief, elected administrations, known only for their outstanding corruption. Engraining into the social fabric of a country the a respect for the peaceful acceptance of elections takes time and is something that cannot spring immediately into being.
Thirty years wasted...

Posted by: Doug on February 11, 2011 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Kill Bill on February 11, 2011 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

We can be defined by the common humanity that we share.

Was this really spoken by the same man who would cut heating oil subsidies in the middle of Winter, and cut back food stamps just as food prices begin to skyrocket?

I guess 'common humanity' begins and ends with tax cuts for the ultra rich who can already afford their necessities, and not go without.

Posted by: jcricket on February 11, 2011 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, a fine speech...after all, it is what he does best. To bad the past 30 years of our foreign policy and all of the billions of dollars we have shoveled into Egypt, has had nothing to do with our presidents words...

Posted by: H.Finn on February 12, 2011 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

"This was, to my mind, an excellent speech."

I still love the naive, unironic way Benen surprises himself after each Obama speech by noting how wonderfully excellent it turned out to be.

Best. Speech. Ever. Just like the last one. And the one before that.

Other than that, I bow before cmdicely for capturing the American attitude to these events so perfectly. I had some dreams, there were clouds on the pyramids... :)

Posted by: nycweboy on February 12, 2011 at 4:47 AM | PERMALINK

Gotta second cmdicely's comment - however I also couldn't help noticing Obama didn't mention the fact the Mubarak only stayed in power because of 1.5 billion US dollars a year in mostly military aid.

Saw pictures of protesters holding rubber bullets and tear gas canisters fired in the square that all had 'Made in the USA' stamped on them.

Not only was Obama (and most of the US political establishment of both parties) completely in the dark about what was happening the fact that thirty years of history was completely whitewashed in Obama's speech as if it never happened was gobsmacking.

This revolution happened IN SPITE OF American support for Mubarak, and can't help but feel that the fine words of Obama in this instance are only really worthy of comment due to what was NOT said.

Posted by: floopmeister on February 12, 2011 at 5:43 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, thanks for posting this. I appreciated the way Obama spoke yesterday, giving credit to various sectors of Egyptian society and placing recent events there in the context of nonviolent change over the past century.

As events continue to unfold in Egypt, and as we have a chance to absorb more of the details of how this nonviolent revolution happened, I suspect we'll find evidence of the importance of what may be the most influential political essay of the last 20 years: "From Dictatorship to Democracy" by Gene Sharp.

Originally written at the request of Burmese democracy activists in the early 1990s, "From Dictatorship to Democracy" is a how-to manual for using nonviolent strategies and tactics to overthrow repressive governments.

It's been translated into many languages (including Arabic), and made widely available at no charge. It's been studied and used by Serbians ousting Milosevic, Ukrainians creating the Orange Revolution, and Iranians two summers ago, among others.

It's a story that should be more widely known.

Posted by: massappeal on February 12, 2011 at 7:12 AM | PERMALINK



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