The stunning announcement of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak stepping down from power electrified citizens not only across the Arab region but the world. The demands for freedom and dignity rising from Cairo’s streets are universal aspirations. I heard one young Egyptian in Tahrir Square shout out: “Give me liberty or give me death.” Those words, of course, were made famous by an America patriot, Patrick Henry, back in 1775, when he made his passionate plea to support the delivery of troops to America’s Revolutionary War effort. And it struck me how the calls for an end to the oppressive regime in Egypt share a deep thread of history with so many others – including America’s own fledgling revolution against Britain’s rule more than two centuries ago.  

I went back to the original speech by Patrick Henry, and it seemed eerily similar to the unfolding events in Egypt and the pent up frustrations of the young protesters.  “We have done everything that could be done,” he said. “…. [Yet] our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded, and we have been spurned…” Patrick Henry then goes on to say: “They tell us that we are weak, unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger?” he asks. “Three million people, armed in the holy cause of liberty… are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.”

Those who rallied in Tahrir Square, whose young faces reflected the urgency of their demands, are the new founding fathers and mothers of their country. Like America’s revolutionaries, they called for the overthrow of an old tyranny and the creation of a new democratic framework.  Egypt’s protesters—many of whom died or were jailed in the process—surely went up against a “formidable adversary”: 30 years of Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, entrenched corruption, and repression of human rights. Yet Egypt’s young people chose the path of non violence—and the power of a new vision of the future—to sway their fellow citizens. And now these new patriots have won a historic victory in a country where change, even a few weeks ago, seemed unthinkable.

We don’t know what will ultimately happen in Egypt. Some predict few real changes will emerge or warn of promises broken. But history has shown that peaceful pro-democracy movements can achieve extraordinary—and lasting—results: from Gandhi’s crusade for India’s independence to the velvet revolutions of Eastern Europe to America’s civil rights movement to the downfall of apartheid in South Africa. Let’s hope that in the very near future we will be watching a peaceful transition to democracy in Egypt, where young people’s calls for “Give me liberty or give me death” will no longer be needed.