Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Prince of Egypt

The story of Moses, as told to us in Exodus, is a very familiar tale. What is not as well known is that the story of Moses can also be found in the Quran (starting with Sura 7.103) and in the Torah.

When the young boy who became Moses was born, his mother could see that he was a goodly child, and she hid him for three months. When it was no longer possible to hide him, she put him in a small ark made of reeds, and sent him down the Nile River.

The daughter of the Pharaoh found him, and took compassion on him, even though she knew that he was a Hebrew. She adopted him, and named him Moses, which means “out of the water”. Since he was now the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter, he was also a prince of Egypt.

When he was still a young man, he became increasingly troubled by the punishment the Hebrew slaves were receiving from their Egyptian masters. On one fateful day, he could take no more, and he slew an Egyptian task master who was smiting a Hebrew slave, and hid his body in the sand.

He fled into the desert to avoid being killed by the Pharaoh, and settled into a life of a shepherd. He ultimately married a woman named Zipporah, who bore him a son, who he named Gershom. Not long after the birth of his son, he heard a voice from above, and saw a vision of a burning bush, which called him to return to Egypt and free his people.

Recently, the Prince of Egypt recently came to life again. Although the circumstances were much different this time, he again freed his people. His name isn’t a familiar name in America yet, but he’ll become much better known in the months to come.

His name is Wael Ghonim. He is only 30 years old, but he lives in a country where 60% of the population is under that age, which almost makes him an “old timer”

He works as a marketing executive for Google in Egypt, and was the one person most responsible for the dramatic changes in Egypt last week, including the resignation of President Mubarak. His recent Facebook post, which he titled “we are all Khaled Said” was, to a very large degree, the “shot that was heard around the world”.

Mubarak came to power in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. During his early years as the leader of his country, he made a number of changes that were very beneficial to Egypt. Over time, though, the country stagnated under his rule. 20% of the population is now below the poverty line, and the GDP is only $6200, so it was inevitable that change would eventually have to come.

The problems in Egypt mirror the problems in the rest of the Arab world. As Thomas Friedman explains in his column of February 24, 2011, the issues that were the underlying cause of the revolutions that are currently raging overseas were actually the fault of America's addiction to cheap foreign oil.

What’s truly remarkable about the change of power in Egypt is that it happened due to the existence of two AMERICAN companies that didn’t even exist 15 years ago. Both Facebook and Google were college projects in their early years.

Google was initially known as “backrub” and was based at Stanford University in California. The company was incorporated in a garage in Menlo Park, California on September 4, 1998.

Mark Zuckerberg started a project that his fellow students called "The Facebook" when he was still a student at Harvard. Facebook, the company, was founded in his college dormitory on February 4, 2004.

Unlike our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the change in government in Egypt came about with virtually no effort on the part of the American government beyond a couple of conversations from President Obama and our former Egyptian ambassador, Frank G Wisner.

The democratic revolution that JUST took place in Egypt happened because the young citizens of Egypt communicated with each other by Facebook and Gmail (and possibly even Twitter). The Egyptian revolution has sparked upheavals in several other countries in the area. This week, demonstrators are in the streets in Libya, Yemen, Iran,and Bahrain (home the the United states Navy's Fifth Fleet), and marches are planned starting tomorrow in Algeria and Iraq. It's pretty obvious by now that the citizens of those other countries have learned to "walk like an Egyptian"

watch Michael Jackson dance

Twitter, by the way, wasn't launched until July of 2006.

When Neda Agha-Soltan’s murder in Teheran was shown around the world on YouTube on June 20, 2009, it crippled the attempts of the leaders of Iran to impose harsh regulations on its citizens. Unlike the revolution of 1979, when internet access was non-existent (which is still the case for Facebbok users in China), the citizens of Iran now have the information that they need to achieve their goals, even though the current government is “still working on it”.

Egypt is living proof that free access to information and education are powerful tools. Another example can be found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Greg Mortenson (author of Three Cups of Tea) has built over 100 schools. By doing so, he has severely limited the appeal of the Taliban in those countries. His books are now required reading for the U.S. military forces that are involved with counter insurgency.

Tunisia also recently changed leaders, and it’s likely that the leaders of some of the other countries in the region will be getting their "walking papers" in the very near future. Although the Arab countries may never achieve what they accomplished in their “Golden Age”, way back in the 7th century, the fact that the Arab world is finally shifting to less autocratic, and more democratic, governments means that the rest of the world is going to be a lot safer.

Al Jazeera has been broadcasting from Egypt during the recent upheaval. Instead of seemingly being a tool for disseminating anti-Western information to hardened fundamentalists, the station is now providing solid proof that jihad is no longer the right answer, and the “great Satan” is really a guy named Osama bin Laden. Ironically, Maommar Gadhafi (leader of a country long considered to be a terrorist state) recently described the protesters in Libya as "drug addled disciples of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden".

When the Pentagon Papers case became known to the public 40 years ago, Time magazine published an issue emblazoned with
“What hath Xerox wrought?”
on the cover. We all marveled at the fact that changes in leadership could come about because of a copy machine.

Google is now the most powerful brand on the face of the earth, a position that none of us, even its founders, would have imagined even five years ago. If the publishers of Time have any since of history, you might eventually see a cover depicting Wael Ghonim , the new Prince of Egypt on the cover, with the heading of “What hath Google wrought?”

Since Mark Zuckerberg was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 2010, my guess is that the new Prince of Egypt would have to be a solid contender for the 2011 title.

1 comment:

  1. A very comprehensive story, I should admit. But Google and Facebook are just the means, media, vehicle for spreading an idea, the idea of democracy.The desire for democracy in the minds of the young people of Egypt is the real fire that became a raging fire to engulf and burn the autocratic regimes.