This week I watched as many thousands of Egyptians celebrated the exit of a dictator with unbridled joy, their faces reflecting the release of their subjugated spirits. I rejoiced with them, not without a little envy that I wasn’t watching those faces celebrating in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba, and filled by a desire for all the world’s people who live in oppression to experience their release. What a divine moment!
But just a moment…
I am no expert on Egyptian politics, but I have lived through at least one revolution that leads me to approach these things with caution.
I once lived through a moment like this in a land very far from Egypt more than a half a century ago. In the first exhilarating moments, as we welcomed our saviors from Batista and took to the streets in celebration of Fidel’s arrival. we were unprepared for the challenges of freedom We stayed in the moment of celebration for too long and failed to look around us and ahead. We have paid dearly for that.
I have worked extensively with abused women through my years as a psychotherapist. I was a Mental Health Program Coordinator in charge of a domestic violence program that treated survivors and perpetrators of abuse, and for years volunteered my time in shelters where I strove to empower women as they faced the challenge of taking charge of their lives, of starting over in the absence of their once knights in shining armors.
New found freedom, whether from an abusive partner or an abusive dictator, brings with it a certain feeling of vertigo. The childlike need to be “taken care of”, whether by a tyrant in the home or a tyrant head of government, forces individuals and populations to abdicate responsibility for their own welfare. The victims look to the abuser for direction, for their very sustenance. In their absence there is a risk that the vacuum will be filled by the first benevolent seeming figure to take their place. Sometimes, benevolent seeming is not a requirement. Overcome by vertigo, individuals as well as nations fall into the arms of whoever shows up next. Many times, after the initial sigh of relief, both find themselves in worse predicaments.
I am struck by the fact the the Egyptians are now at the mercy of an army that followed their commander Hosni Mubarak’s orders for for thirty years, and I wonder if their obvious zest for freedom and their stated commitment to work towards democracy will be strong enough to overcome their need to trust those who promise relief. I wonder if they will have the clarity that is imperative in order to discern what is best for their country, or if they will fall into the temptation to “look up to” a new savior or saviors. Will they be up to the challenge of looking ahead and uniting as a people to realize their own vision of freedom? Is it too much to ask a people who have not known freedom for thirty years to conceptualize what freedom will look like for them?
Observing Egypt I think of my own people. My fellow Cubans on the island who haven’t taken a free breath for generations; my fellow Cubans who abused by one tyrant, fell right into the arms of another much more macabre than the previous one. My fellow Cubans in exile are not united. Were there to be a rising of the people in Havana, a frantic celebration of new found freedom, would things be different? Would Cubans be able to find their way to freedom, or simply settle for a more tolerable tyranny?
You say you want a revolution?
Well, you know, we all want to change the world…..
But are we prepared?
My hopes and prayers are with the people of Egypt, of Cuba, of the abused, and all the people of the world for whom freedom is only a dream.