On a Saturday morning in October, 1981, my mother asked me to go get the newspaper for her.
According to what she said happened next, I apparently picked up the newspaper, looked at it, then asked:
“Mom … did you know Anwar Sadat was assassinated?”
I was four years old.
Officially, this became the day my mother realized I could read full, adult sentences.
But thinking about it now, it was also the day I unknowingly – and briefly – discovered Egyptian (or, perhaps more appropriately, Middle East) politics.
Of course, in my four-year-old world, “assassination” was just a word. I had NO clue the leader of a country half a world away had been killed the day before.
Or, that eight days later, some guy named Hosni Mubarak – then, an air force commander and Sadat’s vice-president – would be sworn in as president.
And now, 30 years later, it’s “some guy” that’s at the centre of a crisis the world has been watching with rapt attention for two and a half weeks.
It’s just the strangest feeling.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before this occurred – especially given the fact Tunisia had just ousted its own leader early this year.
But who would’ve guessed that on January 25th (coincidentally, my birthday), a nation famous for its ancient civilization – and perhaps infamous for its present-day lack of human rights, among other things – would break out into widespread protest?
Seeing and reading about those protestors gathered in the square day after day, astounds me.
But also watching images of injured people being stitched up and attended to at makeshift first aid centres … journalists being assaulted and jostled … and last week’s clashes between pro-government supporters and anti-Mubarak protestors … concerns and saddens me, even though it comes with the territory.
And through it all, still Mubarak remains – to me, appearing more stubborn than steadfast.
Perhaps folks thought that, like Tunisian president Ben Ali, Mubarak would see the writing on the wall, and run.
Instead, he’s opting to hold ’em, rather than fold ’em.
He’s offered his own kind of concessions, all of them piecemeal. Announcing he wouldn’t run for re-election. Dissolving his current government. Electing a vice-president for the first time since HE was vice-president 30 years ago, and asking someone else to form the new government. And so on.
And then, Thursday arrived.
This, protestors thought, would be the day Mubarak would take his leave, just like they’d prayed and protested for.
Networks showed images of a sea of people gathered in Tahrir Square as music blared, and a loud, excited buzz moved through the crowd.
Then, Mubarak took to the airwaves. For a moment, I also thought, FINALLY, Egyptians are getting the break they’ve asked for.
Instead, he spent roughly 10 minutes telling the temporarily hushed masses – and the world – the exact opposite.
The man was staying, handing off all but three of his duties to someone else in the “new” government.
Egyptians angrily waved their shoes at the news.
The rest of the world had a bit of a “WTF?” moment.
So, now what?
No one knows.
I can’t speak for other folks watching, listening and reading around the world … but I’m hoping for the best, while expecting something resembling the worst.
I hope I’m wrong.
But either way, I’ll be watching the with a mix of fascination at the history in the making … and the concern at what the situation could morph into.
I can only hope that, at the end of it all, the Egyptian people protesting in cities like Cairo and Alexandria get what they’re asking for – a better, freer life than the one they’ve come to know.
**Postscript: As of 11:03 ET – less than 12 hours after posting this – the Egyptian government announced that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, and power has temporarily been handed to the military. Will wonders never cease. What happens next, though, is up to Egypt.