Norhan was on a plane from Cairo to London on September 11, 2001. When she and her family landed in London they heard the terrible news of that day. “I knew it,” her father said.
Norhan was only 12 years old when her family moved from Egypt to start a new life in the UK. For a long time her father had been fearful about the future of his country and of the Middle East.
Ever since then her generation has grown up with an impending sense of doom. The narrative of the Middle East seemed written from the second the airplanes slammed into the towers; and driven home with every helicopter gunboat, drone attack and suicide bomb; from Tavistock Sqaure to Kandahar.
Last Saturday, Norhan was back in London, visiting to celebrate an event that her father did not see coming. Egypt’s youth has overthrown a dictator. It has done so without ideology, without bloodletting and without hate. Egypt’s youth has not read history’s script. Or rather they have, and they’ve thrown it on a bonfire in Tahrir Square.
This is not to underplay the dangers that lie ahead for Egypt and the Middle East. But there is no denying that Egypt, Tunisia and all the sudden remarkable expressions of popular dissent across the region represent an entirely new, entirely game-changing factor in the politics of the region.
An Arab scholar at the University of Maryland has called the Egyptian revolution: “Bin Laden’s nightmare”. Al Qaeda’s strength depends on the assumption that the Middle East is caught between two choices; acquiescence to the West, or violent resistance to it. Egypt has shown the region a third way: peaceful, popular, pluralist reform.
What will happen next is impossible to say. But for the first time, as Norhan said on Saturday, anything seems possible.