Monday, January 31, 2011

Nice Work, Egyptians- You're Just Not Finished Yet

I have been hesitating to write about Egypt for a few reasons, but primarily because there is not too much to report because so-called news networks have really been lagging.  In their classic sensationalist fashion headlines and screen banners read “Huge Protests!” “Egypt in Uproar!” and so forth without really giving any facts or political/historical context.  Dead body counts apparently attract more attention that they actual reason why there are dead bodies in the first place, so that’s what we get- the bright lights and exclamation points that are the media.  I say more Anderson Cooper and less ShowBiz!  But this is a huge pet peeve of mine that will have to wait for another day.

So, Egypt.  I was not at all surprised to hear that the citizens of Egypt have finally had enough of their government.  They have been a police state for some 30 years and their pompous President (when I was in Egypt there were huge posters of him EVERYWHERE) has allowed himself to slip into the role of dictator.  In the name of freedom, he has outlawed, among other things, a political party known as the Islamic Brotherhood.  Yes, in this country I think we would characterize that as state action targeting a specific religion and, therefore, unconstitutional.  In my opinion, President Mubarak did this to show the US that he was cool enough to join our anti-Jihadist campaign, despite the fact that Islam is probably the dominant religion in the area.  I don’t doubt that radical Islam is a bad thing, it is.  It really is.  But the Islamic Brotherhood, although conservative on the spectrum of Islam, stands for the fact that they are not trying to push their values on all citizens, but they will try to use the political process the promote Islamic ideals.  I see NO DIFFERENCE between this and conservative Christians saying we want to use the political process to vote-in Republicans who oppose abortion because it furthers our Christian ideals.  Banning religious groups from political activity like this in our country would be an outrage!  So you can see why this is equally problematic in Egypt.  To support the Brotherhood further, they are not even visible leaders in the current upheaval (although that is likely for a strategic reason), but the point is that they have demonstrated that they know how to control themselves and that they want to try to gain power in a democratic, organized way.

So if the Islamic Brotherhood is not completely to blame for the protests, then who is?  A large proportion of the protesters are young unemployed or underemployed men who are frustrated with their dead-end lives and the police oppression that has been going for as long as they have been alive.  Basically, they have nothing to lose, so they are risking their lives to try to implement democracy and greater freedoms for themselves and their posterity.  They don’t want to wait for a peaceful transition of leadership, they are working for change NOW.  Seems noble, and it probably is, but there are some problems the people need to address, in my humble opinion:

  1)  Anti-American Sentiments.  Along with the anti-Mubarak cries of the masses, you can hear anti-US and anti-Obama statements as well.  And it is hard to blame them after all the big talk that Obama made when he gave a worldwide address in Egypt about spreading freedom and democracy to the Near/Middle East and yet he still takes the side of the allegedly freedom-sucking Mubarak.  Of course they are frustrated!  However, I really don’t think that if these people are trying to start a democracy in the Near East that they really want to be making enemies with the US.  With our experience, albeit far from perfect, in training civilians to lead and helping to foster elections that the US Armed Forces has had for the last several years in the Middle East, plus all of Obama’s big promises, they may be knocking at our door very soon for some help and support and, since we have made ourselves out to be the Great Diplomats of Democracy it is extremely unlikely that the US will turn down a request for assistance in rebuilding the political infrastructure of Egypt.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I see the US going in and educating the leaders and people of Egypt in the practical workings of democracy and it will be a very awkward experience if this relationship is begun with anti-American protests.  The Egyptian people likely will lose the support of the American people that they would have had if they had said “Oh, US- we are trying to be more like you, please help us!”  As narcissistic as we are, we would not be able to refuse, and Egypt would become the next Haiti with every spare dollar and fleece blanket being sent overseas.  And who doesn’t like a blanket in time of crisis? :) So although I don't advocate begging and feet-kissing, a little humility and buddy-buddyness would help their cause greatly.

2)  The Police Problem.  So the police are under the direction of the government, it’s a police state- think Marshal Law.  Unfortunately, they have vanished.  Many feel that its because the current administration is trying to show that without them, there is chaos.  This has almost worked, since looting and rioting has become rampant.  But it really hasn’t accomplished much since civilians have teamed with the military to create their own checkpoints and neighborhood watch units.  This is pretty cool.  Contrast the image of tanks rolling over civilians at Tiananmen Square and then look at how civilians in Egypt have been, with permission, painting revolutionary slogans on the military tanks, taking photos on them, and hanging out around them.  However, last I heard, the police are back.  And this could mean the clash of the Titans in the next few days.  I fear that the police are going to infiltrate the rioters in plain clothes and we could very quickly have a massacre on our hands.

3)  Time.  Most of these people only know the oppressive police-run state of Egypt.  It has been this way so long that it is going to take some extreme effort to truly turn from this type of regime, especially when their geographical neighbors aren’t exactly the best examples of freedom and peace.  This is a lofty goal, and it is going to be a long, long transition that needs an action plan and some bright, humble, young leaders ready to fight the odds for the rest of their lives.
4)  The looting.  I’ve already mentioned it, but this kind of behavior is just playing into the hands of the police- showing that chaos land lawlessness ensue in the absence of a restrictive government.  And what REALLY made me upset was to hear that at least 2 mummies in the Cairo Museum have been destroyed in the chaos.  WHAT?!?  So you destroy priceless artifacts from the premier museum in that whole corner of the world and, with it, vandalize your own rich culture and heritage in an effort to show your angst against the current administration.  Come on, guys- get your act together.
(NOTE: sure, when I went to the Cairo Museum I had Nile Belly and I was beginning to suffer from heatstroke and the museum wasn't even air conditioned and I got left behind being sick in the bathroom...but still!  DO NOT mess with the artifacts!)

5) Communication.  Phone service was somehow shut off for a time by the government to prevent things like Twittering where the next riot would be and the internet has also been largely disabled, making it extremely difficult for the citizens to make any sort of effective plans.  However, there are tech savvy people all over the world and rebels are already finding way around the internet ban and they are making progress towards information sharing that will greatly assist them in their reform efforts.

In sum, good idea- but it is far from over and I fear that if there is not greater organization and practical planning on the part of the rebels, that little or no permanent change will be made.


1 comment:

Linds said...

Looks like they may have found someone to organize and rally around, Mohamed ElBaradei- a nobel lauriate even! On the right track Egypt! (they must have all read this post...despite the internet ban)