Me! On a camel!
I find the news out of Egypt to be shocking and yet completely expected. Shocking in that things have become incredibly chaotic so quickly, yet it seems that Mubarak isn’t going down yet. It disgusts me that we seem (i.e., Americans) only now realize that he’s an oppressive dictator, and make half-assed attempts to act like we’re not going to stand for that. Sadly, we seem to have a history of propping up unsavory characters in this region, at least until they cease to serve our purposes. Something tells me he’ll be taken out without our intervention, or at least I hope so.
However, I’m not the least bit surprised that this is happening. His regime has squelched the progress, welfare, and prosperity of the Egyptian people for the last 30 years, and even the strongest people can only handle it for so long. When they woke up to see that indeed a dictator can be brought down by the people (see: Tunisia), that’s all it took.
I spent some time there 7 years ago, and found the place completely intoxicating and fascinating. The gaps between rich and poor were dizzying, and there is an awful lot of poverty there. Family is paramount, and hospitality is like a second religion (or more like it, a part of religion). Don’t ever tell an Egyptian mom that you’re hungry…She’ll lay out a 4 course meal before you can even utter, “shukran!” (“thank you!”).
My travels there took me all over Egypt: mosques, churches, museums, friends’ homes, shops, markets, and historical sights. I saw packs of energetic young children skip, sing, and play on their way to school, and I loved when they yelled out, “Hello! What is your name? Where are you from?” It was a new experience to be the exotic outsider, but there, it still felt welcoming. I visited Al-Azhar and met with an imam there. I stayed up all night dancing and giggling with a bunch of young women my age. I spent many delightful hours drinking coffee and tea, eating sweets, and hearing all kinds of stories from my friends. Despite the poverty, the frustrations, and the oppression, many people there found ways to make the most of what they had. Still, they knew that they deserved better. The police/military presence there was unsettling, and ironically, did nothing to make me feel safer.
When I hear politicians (usually from the right) claim that this will lead to an extremist theocracy, I just want to throw things at the TV. If the Arab world has had trouble establishing a truly free democracy, it’s only because we’ve meddled unnecessarily in order to preserve our own interests in the region. I have faith that the people of Egypt can form a functional democracy without our intervention. If we do intervene to insert our own self-serving dictator there, I fear for what could happen.