An anti-government protester holds a banner reading "The Egyptians had a taste of freedom. There is no way back" during the continuing demonstration in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. More than a quarter-million people flooded into the heart of Cairo Tuesday, filling the city's main square in by far the largest demonstration in a week of unceasing demands for President Hosni Mubarak to leave after nearly 30 years in power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
The dramatic events in Egypt have a special resonance here in New York.
As people in Egypt toppled the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak and millions cheered around the world, it evoked for me scenes from the history of the American republic.
It was here in New York that, under the leadership of General George Washington, America colonists took on the British Army, battling the redcoats from Staten Island to Brooklyn and Long Island.
It was here, near present day City Hall, that Washington had the Declaration of Independence read to his troops on July 9, 1776.
It was at Wall and Broad Streets, at Federal Hall, that on April 30, 1789, Washington took the oath of office as President of the United States. Church bells tolled. Canons roared. Ships blew their whistles. And a crowd of thousands filled the narrow streets of lower Manhattan to cheer the first President of the United States.
After he took the oath of office, Washington kissed the Bible, then added: “So help me God!” And the man who administered the oath, Chancellor Robert Livingston, shouted: “It is done! Long live George Washington, President of the United States!” There were tears and shouts of joy from the officials who presided at the inauguration and the people in the streets.
New York was the place where Abraham Lincoln delivered the pivotal speech of his campaign for the presidency, in 1860, at Cooper Union, the address in which he said that right makes might. It was at City Hall that, five years later, the body of the assassinated president lay in state as New York and the nation mourned.
New York figured prominently in presidential campaigns over the last two centuries. In what became a New York tradition, I saw Democratic presidential candidates hold their last big rallies in the heart of the garment district, at 38th Street and Seventh Avenue.
New York produced several presidents.This city was the birthplace of Teddy Roosevelt. Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, upstate, but lived also in a town house in Manhattan.
Times Square has been the landscape for iconic photographs, like the sailor kissing a young woman at the end of World War II. Every New Year’s Eve, the attention of Americans everywhere is riveted for a few seconds on Times Square, as the ball comes down and a new year begins.
The history of New York City is embedded in the history of our nation. The struggle for independence and democracy in Egypt is something that New York history buffs can relate to somehow. Even if our democracy is only about two and a half centuries old, we can admire the struggle of Egyptians for democracy and understand the passion that drives them.