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Reliving Revolution: The Egyptian Star Of 'Doctor Zhivago'

In August, Netflix sent the 1965 classic film Doctor Zhivago to my apartment. Since then, Egypt held elections widely viewed as fraudulent, the government of Tunisia fell, and anti-government protests have spread from Libya to Russia. Last night I finally watched it, all 3 hours and 20 minutes.

It's a love story, told against the backdrop of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and ensuing civil war in Russia. Dr. Zhivago is played by Omar Sharif, the legendary Egyptian actor. Sharif lives in Cairo. Yesterday, he spoke to France Inter radio from his high rise apartment overlooking the mass demonstrations. He expressed trepidation about both sides of the standoff. Sharif said president Hosni Mubarak "should have resigned," and that he fears the Muslim Brotherhood taking power.

This isn't much different from Yuri Zhivago. He saw the brutality of the czars and the ignoble zealotry of the Bolsheviks. The good doctor packed up his family and fled the unrest in Moscow across the Urals. Sure, he ditched his pregnant wife for Julie Christie and then was cajoled into serving as a medical officer in the Red Army as his family fled to Paris (see: karma). But Dr. Zhivago — a poet at heart — was searching for a better, more peaceful life.

So are the people of Egypt.

The situation today is not as tumultuous and not a fraction as violent as Russia in 1917. But as NPR has reported, Egyptians are facing many hardships — looting, scarce food, no cash. There is fear in the streets, along with hope and idealism.

The world frets regional instability and many cheer on the protests as the dawn of a democratic era in the Arab world. It's important to remember the lives of individual Egyptians, interrupted. Those marching today in Tahrir Square and their 79 million compatriots are seeking 80 million better, more peaceful lives.

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Arnie Seipel
Arnie Seipel is the Deputy Washington Editor for NPR. He oversees daily news coverage of politics and the inner workings of the federal government. Prior to this role, he edited politics coverage for seven years, leading NPR's reporting on the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections. In between campaigns, Seipel edited coverage of Congress and the White House, and he coordinated coverage of major events including State of the Union addresses, Supreme Court confirmations and congressional hearings.