"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I put my finger on the globe, covering the spot in Alaska where I live. The 150th longitude lies adjacent to that point. I moved north, past the land mass of Alaska, over the geographic North Pole, and headed south.

Now my finger followed the corresponding 30th longitude south alongside Finland, through charming St. Petersburg, and close to Lithuania, from where my paternal grandparents emigrated a century ago. My finger traveled through the Ukraine, then across the Black Sea, through Turkey, across the Mediterranean Sea, finally stopping in Egypt. Somehow that served to increase my empathy for the Egyptian protestors.

I came so-o-o-o-o close to being there, in Egypt, when protests erupted in Tahrir Square. I’ve been looking at a trip to Egypt for a couple years. Actually, I’ve wanted to see the pyramids since I first heard such things existed. For much of my adult life, it was not a safe place for Americans to visit, and just when I thought it safe to go, exiled Islamist terrorists massacred 58 mostly Swiss and Japanese tourists at Luxor last year.

When you travel with an organized tour company, your e-mail in box will be forever full of special offers from the tour company, especially when tour dates near and the company is trying to fill all the seats. So when I got a terrific offer from one company for a three-week land-river cruise that hit the highlights in Egypt, special pricing including airfare, and a free single supplement, I almost hit “book now.”

What stopped me was going to the post office and listening to National Geographic radio on the drive. I heard about small group tours to Africa and hikes to see the mountain gorillas there. Yes, I thought. Not Egypt this year. Mountain gorillas. So, I passed on the tour to Egypt, but, my gosh, I came so close to being there right now.

Now I visit Egypt on TV, thinking it might not be on my itinerary for what’s left in my lifetime. These are days of profound uncertainty, here, there, everywhere.

Forget Dancing with the Stars. The best terpsichorean on the globe right now might very well be Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. Listen to him on the cable news channels, and you get the idea that all is well with U.S.-Egyptian relations and Israel can just relax. We’re fine, you’re fine, they’re fine, everybody’s fine, fine.

When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated, in part for his participation in the Camp David Accords that promised peace with Israel in 1979, he was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who just “resigned” from office. Because Mubarak abided by the Camp David Accords, and also probably because the U.S. poured billions in foreign aid into the Egyptian Army, Mubarak was considered a U.S. ally.

I was feeling fairly optimistic about the current events in Egypt yesterday, the day Mubarak left the Presidential compound, and thinking this might be Egypt’s best chance for a true democracy. I was uneasy about the U.S. turning on a long time ally, even if that ally was a despised dictator.

There’s a well-known proverb:

Chi va dormir con i cani, si leua con i pulici. He that goeth to bedde wyth Dogges, aryseth with fleas.--[1573 J. Sanforde Garden of Pleasure 103V]

Yet, I hoped for the democratization of Egypt, despite what might be perceived as bumbling and stumbling by my government. “It knows much more than I do,” is my mantra in these situation.

After watching the celebrating in Tahrir Square via CNN, I switched over to Fox News Channel. The anchor was at the tail end of interviewing a man whose name I didn’t catch, but who seemed to be another authority on the Middle East. I was just in time to hear him say, “The United States is viewed in the Middle East as impotent by its enemies, and treacherous to its friends.”

That knocked the warm and fuzzies right out of me.

Only in time will we know whether Egypt becomes a free and democratic society. The vacuum of experienced, organized political parties provides a perfect opportunity for radical Islamists to hijack the revolution. And, it’s always possible that this was a carefully orchestrated military coup—again.

I hope for the best for Egypt and the U.S., but as one current affairs analyst said, thirty years ago an Egyptian university class looked like any class you’d find at Brown or Smith in the U.S. The women were uncovered and were free.

Today, he continued, all women in Egypt are covered, they have no freedom, and nine of ten have suffered female genital mutilation.

Many things to keep you awake at night.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the many issues tied to the changes in Egypt are worrisome indeed.