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The Moral force of nonviolence

By Barack Obama

An excerpt from the remarks by President Barack Obama on Egypt delivered on February 11, 2011

Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years.  But over the last few weeks, the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace as the Egyptian people demanded their universal rights.

We saw mothers and fathers carrying their children on their shoulders to show them what true freedom might look like.

We saw a young Egyptian say, “For the first time in my life, I really count.  My voice is heard.  Even though I’m only one person, this is the way real democracy works.”

We saw protesters chant “Selmiyya, selmiyya” — “We are peaceful” — again and again.

We saw a military that would not fire bullets at the people they were sworn to protect.

And we saw doctors and nurses rushing into the streets to care for those who were wounded, volunteers checking protesters to ensure that they were unarmed.

We saw people of faith praying together and chanting – “Muslims, Christians, We are one.”  And though we know that the strains between faiths still divide too many in this world and no single event will close that chasm immediately, these scenes remind us that we need not be defined by our differences.  We can be defined by the common humanity that we share.

And above all, we saw a new generation emerge — a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears; a government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations.  One Egyptian put it simply:  Most people have discovered in the last few days…that they are worth something, and this cannot be taken away from them anymore, ever.

This is the power of human dignity, and it can never be denied.  Egyptians have inspired us, and they’ve done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence.  For in Egypt, it was the moral force of nonviolence — not terrorism, not mindless killing — but nonviolence, moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.

And while the sights and sounds that we heard were entirely Egyptian, we can’t help but hear the echoes of history — echoes from Germans tearing down a wall, Indonesian students taking to the streets, Gandhi leading his people down the path of justice.

As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana while trying to perfect his own, “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.”  Those were the cries that came from Tahrir Square, and the entire world has taken note.

Today belongs to the people of Egypt, and the American people are moved by these scenes in Cairo and across Egypt because of who we are as a people and the kind of world that we want our children to grow up in.

The word Tahrir means liberation.  It is a word that speaks to that something in our souls that cries out for freedom.  And forevermore it will remind us of the Egyptian people — of what they did, of the things that they stood for, and how they changed their country, and in doing so changed the world.

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