History is not, as some people think, a set of points on a line; instead, it is the line itself, unbroken, never-ending. It is cliché to liken history to a river, but perhaps that is the best approximation we can give, always flowing forward toward the vast unknown ocean we call the future. There are, of course, places where the current eddies around rocks and other obstructions. These are times of great upheaval and change, the points on the line that too many fixate upon, losing the majesty of the river itself.
Still, to be witness to one of those crossing points, one of the eddies where the river rushes past, altered only slightly but fundamentally, is an awe-inspiring thing. In my lifetime, I have witnessed a number of these events, these ripples that pass through the otherwise placid water.
I saw the space shuttle Challenger explode, I watched the Berlin Wall fall, I observed the end of the U.S.S.R., and I witnessed the horror of 9/11. Today I’m witness to a new point in history, the liberation of Egypt.
For twenty-nine years, Egypt’s dictator, Honsi Mubarak, has ruled, often a friend to the United States, but a dictator nonetheless. When the people of Egypt finally rose up against him, he initially attempted to pacify them by transferring some of his authority to his vice president. This failed. Today, February 11, 2011, Mr. Mubarak officially stepped down, transferring control of the country to a military council.
It remains to be seen if the nation that emerges from this transition will continue to embrace democracy, as its overjoyed people seem to wish, or if the country might fall into disarray, with an even worse dictator coming to the fore. We can hope that the former and not the latter will be the case, but we have no way of knowing how the river of history will flow. For now all we know is that change is coming, vast change not only for Egypt but perhaps for the whole of the Middle East.
It’s possible the torch of democracy, which flared brightly in Tunisia and has spread outward in the last two months, will continue to burn through the Arabian Peninsula. It’s unlikely that, if such protests occur in more totalitarian nations, bloodshed will be avoided. We could, in fact, be on the verge of World War III, this time with the theater of war located in one of the most contested parts of the globe.
Doom and gloom, yes, but realism. Such events could happen. On the other hand, freedom and democracy might sweep through people. With the rise in information, and more importantly, the freedom of information, people tend to become less complacent with dictatorial governments. No force on earth can entirely stop the flow of information these days. The internet simply isn’t a realm that can be controlled with tanks and bombs. It’s hard to keep feeding people lies and propaganda when they can simply Google the truth.
The spread of information is, in a way, like the flow of history itself. As it gains speed and strength, the river moves faster, deeper, and stronger. As we move onward toward the great sea of the future, perhaps we also move toward an age where information becomes the currency of the land, where knowledge is a weapon and guns are merely the tools of the un-evolved primitive, seen in museums alongside flint arrowheads and knives.
We can hope, yes. We can hope. For now, we simply bear witness to the events that continue to unfold in the world, and consider in the wake of such awe-inspiring events how different our lives may be further down the river.