Who knows what will happen in Egypt now that Hosni Mubarak is gone
? Who knows what will happen in Tunisia, with the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali? Or in the other countries of that region, where the stirrings of democracy seem to be popping up in the most unexpected places?
The best any of us can have is the hope expressed by Martin Luther King Jr. decades ago (and alluded to Friday by President Obama):
"Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
But my first thought watching the crowds swell and cheer in Egypt was of a much more humble figure from literature: A turtle named Mack.
From everything I've read and seen, the protests in Egypt were sparked by the protests in Tunisia. And the protests in Tunisia were sparked by the sacrifice of one man: A fruit stand merchant named Mohamed Bouazizi.
The summary of events in the Guardian is representative:
"Twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi
, living in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, had a university degree but no work. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire."
When the news of that act became public, Tunisians were inspired to take to the streets. From Dec. 17, when Bouazizi set himself afire, to Jan. 14, when Ben Ali fled the country, protests grew by the day.
Shift to Egypt, where the Jan. 25 protesters repeatedly told reporters that they were inspired by what they saw in Tunisa. Took 18 days to end a 30-year regime.
Which brings us back to Mack.
Who is Mack? He's the hero of the Dr. Seuss story "Yertle the Turtle," first published in 1951
Yertle is king of the turtles of the island of Sala-ma-Sond. He decides he is to the ruler of all he can see, and orders the other turtles to stack each other so that Yertle could sit atop the pile and expand his view -- and his rule.
Mack is near the bottom of the pile and starts to respectfully complain. To no avail.
"SILENCE!" the King of the Turtles barked back.
"I'm king, and you're only a turtle named Mack."
Finally, Mack has had enough:
That plain little turtle below in the stack,
That plain little turtle whose name was just Mack,
Decided he'd taken enough. And he had.
And that plain little lad got a bit mad.
And that plain little Mack did a plain little thing.
And his burp shook the throne of the king!
And Yertle falls to the mud.
Seuss said that Yertle represented Hitler, among other dictators. He said he was trying to show how one seemingly insignificant person can have a dramatic effect, can start into motion a process that can bring down a tyrant.
Mohamed Bouazizi died of his burns and did not live to see the Tunisian regime fall. I do not mean to trivialize his sacrifice with a comparison to the Seuss story. Or to trivialize the deaths and injuries of hundreds of Egyptian protesters over the past three weeks. Or to suggest that I have any clue about what will emerge from the wreckage of dictatorships.
But I can hope. As Seuss ended his tale:
And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course... all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.