WHEN IT FINALLY CAME, many did a double-take. The statement by the Egyptian vice president, Omar Suleiman, was so short that there was a pause after he ended with an imploration that God help us all. And then, a sonic wave of rejoicing pulsed from Tahrir Square and continued late into the night.
You did not have to be Egyptian or Arab to feel pride at what had just been accomplished: after 18 days of protests, over 300 deaths and many more wounded, the army flinched and removed Hosni Mubarak. That military men remain ostensibly in charge of the country mattered little next to the symbolic import of what had happened: a ruler, one of them, had been deposed. The sense of the protest movement’s righteousness, of justice at long last rendered, is universally, intuitively understandable.
Even so, this moment was particularly rich in symbolism for Arabs. When they looked at the protestors celebrating, much as they looked at the celebration a few weeks earlier in Tunis, their reaction was not just one of support. It was one of recognition: on the streets of Cairo, they saw themselves. They instinctively understood the humiliation that Egyptians felt, because it was so similar to their own: the feeling of being taken for granted by your rulers, of being a subject rather than a citizen, of being constantly manipulated by powers whose credibility has long run out.