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A Revolution For The Ages

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Sarah Hanson-Young 15 Feb 2011

History was made last week. Not because Prime Minister Julia Gillard broke down in Parliament or because Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was struck dumb by a Channel 7 reporter, but because the people of Egypt brought about a peaceful revolution.

It's a revolution that dramatically changes the course of their nation's future and potentially that of their region.

Reading the weekend papers, however, and watching the Sunday morning political panels many Australians could be forgiven for missing this historic moment. Endless pages of print and air-time have been devoted to whether or not the PM shed crocodile tears or what was going through Abbott's head during that endless silence.

Advertisement: Story continues below At the end of the day, these things are of little historic importance. They certainly won't shape the future of our nation or have any lasting consequences (beyond perhaps the Opposition Leader declining to meet with journos wielding laptops!).

Most people of my parents' generation recall where they were when the Berlin Wall fell. Or what they were doing when Nelson Mandela finally won his quest for freedom. In turn, our grandparents remember how they felt when Mahatma Ghandi liberated India. For Generation Ys like myself, the weekend's events in Egypt should be of equal significance.Let's pause to reflect on exactly what occurred. A despotic regime was overthrown, not with tanks or guns but with the power of peaceful protest.

This is especially inspiring when we consider the other major regime change of the 21st century - Iraq. But here, however, bombs replaced placards. In the lead up to this illegal war, the Coalition of the Willing (including our own then prime minister John Howard) insisted that military action was necessary to bring about democracy for the Iraqi people. History tells us that this was a lie and at the weekend we were provided with yet another reminder that democracy is best achieved from within (albeit with solidarity from other nations). While exactly what happens next remains uncertain, it is clear that Egypt is heading on a new course towards democracy.

As someone who has worked for many years promoting positive change, it's easy to get disillusioned when change doesn't happen. Egypt sends a powerful message to all those who believe protest can achieve lasting change. It doesn't always happen overnight, but it does happen.It's remarkable to think that a regime that has spent the past three decades stifling political dissent, was finally extinguished by an uprising of ordinary Egyptians that decided enough was enough.

The fact that these events were not given the kind of coverage they deserve says a lot about the focus of modern politics. The media obsession with gaffes and faux pas all too often comes at the expense of the things that really matter - the things that to quote US President Barack Obama, truly ‘‘bend the arc of history''. Those of us in public life have a responsibility to raise the bar when it comes to political debate and discussion, but also all Australians have a responsibility to reflect on the issues that really are of long term significance. Egypt's peaceful revolution certainly puts these things in perspective.

This was first published on Tuesday, the 15th of February 2011, on The National Times (The Age Online).  

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