I was raised a good American boy, brought up in the Reagan years to believe that democracy = good, everything else = not as good. Since I didn’t know anything about capitalism, communism, the systems of government, etc., I just went with it. Like a lot of people.
As such, when I see photos and videos and read news reports of the latest happenings in Egypt, the huge protests and uprisings in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere, I can’t really stop myself from feeling like, “Hey, good for you guys. Go get ‘em.” Not that I’d otherwise be wishing the people of a sovereign nation ill in the often painful process of restructuring/remaking their how they are ruled, just that I was raised with a certain amount of respect for those who rebel against an unfair political situation, and it’s more emotional than intellectual.
Hosni Mubarak took power in Egypt in 1981 and never looked back. For literally my entire life, Egypt has had the same president, and mysteriously, he keeps getting 99 percent of the popular vote. Let’s just assume, then, it’s the other one percent standing in front of tanks and clashing with police and military officials as I sit in my comfortable office and type this column. A noisy one percent.
In Tunisia too. And Jordan. That one percent really gets around.
Whatever the case or the numbers involved—reports vary, but both the death toll and the tally of those taking part in the uprising are on a steady increase—my only hope for Egypt is that the people come out of it better off than they are. It was the rising cost of food that brought them to the streets in the first place (at least partially), so for their efforts, I hope they get cheaper Cheerios and water and whatnot. I was kind of discouraged to see the way Mohammad ElBaradei showed up four or five days into the protests and made a big speech, like some corporate bigwig who goes to a newly finished skyscraper, puts on a hardhat and says, “Look what we built!” Old boss out, new boss in. Same shit.
On the other hand, the U.S. response to all this history-making wackiness has been remarkably encouraging. Barrack Obama probably won’t be remembered in the annals of presidential lore as a great domestic policymaker, but in terms of his international dealings, Egypt is only the latest in a series of smooth moves. America has a habit of fostering “homegrown revolutions” in other countries, and isn’t it an amazing coincidence when those put in power are U.S.-friendly military dictators? Strange how that happens. President Obama, to his credit, is standing back on this one. If you send in the military and prop someone up, the Egyptian people will hate you for it and it’ll only further extremism in the Middle East (you may have heard of it). Do nothing and you seem like you don’t care about democracy or the rights of the people of Egypt to have a representative government.
Make a couple statements of vague support for the people of Egypt, however, and you do the most important thing you can in this situation: You cover your ass.
Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t, that’s about the best our President can hope for in this situation, and wisely, it’s the choice he’s made.
But whomever takes power in Egypt, the most important thing is that the situation improves for the people. It’s easy—especially for Americans—to romanticize popular unrest in terms of our “revolutionary” beginnings, but the truth is there’s a lot at stake for these individuals out there getting fighter planes flown over their heads. Their lives, for starters. Power never gives up power easily, and you can bet before this is over—no matter how it turns out—more people will be killed. Birth pangs of progress? Shit. Tell that to some student’s mom.
It’s good to be excited. It’s good to be fascinated, and to follow the stories, and if you’re the praying type, to pray for these people. These are all good things. What you have to keep in mind, though, is that blissful endings don’t just happen and Egypt has many trials ahead. At least when it’s all over, the U.S. won’t have completely crapped it up for them…