Friday, 11 February 2011

Dear Egypt

Dear Egypt,

For ten or eleven days here in Ontario, Canada, slowed down by snow and freezing temperatures and now a horrible cold, I have been kicking a blog posting between my personal and work emails about your recent exploits. It was about war and oppression and "hearts and minds" and you not buying what your dictator was selling. I have realized today upon learning of your victory over this man, Hosni Mubarak, that I was not getting my point across and I needed to start over. So without further ado, congratulations With the whole world watching, hundreds of thousands of you refused to vacate Tahrir square for 18 days. Today, Hosni Mubarak finally did what he couldn't have done a second sooner as the biggest strongman turned lame duck ever: He quit.

The stuff I wrote was okay and probably editable, but the main problem with it was my lack of knowledge on Egypt. I've never been to Egypt. I went to high school with a couple Egyptians. I know some anecdotal stuff, such as that General Nasser was the first Arab leader with any backbone, in the early 1970s, after a few decades of Western-supported sellout lackeys in your region. I know that you've been ruled by this former military commander, U.S. supported strongman Mubarak since 1980, and that the Suez Crisis in the 1960s around the Six Day War was historically significant. This information, while useful, does not give me sufficient license, I feel, to comment and analyse what your country is going through and the zeitgeist in your air right now. I will restrain myself instead to giving you my heartiest congratulations, explaining why I think what you did was important, and describing how our ideas about the middle east in North America about your country and region get created in our minds.

Apart from the vivid images we get from a few daring American adventure-man reporters like CNN's Anderson Cooper and the New York Times's Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman who jump on planes and land in the middle of crowds like yours whenever stuff like this happens, to shout at us through overstated prose or shaky camera lenses "Holy Shit! I'm witnessing history. Democracy is being born over here. I can't describe what is in the air. Everyone's on twitter," our view over here about you tends to be distorted and monopolized by "experts". These are people who sometimes write in the mainstream media, but more often in journals like Foreign Affairs or The National Interest. Many of them work at Ivy League schools, and there is also their audio output from podcasts, such as the Center for Strategic and International studies' (CSIS) weekly briefing. That organization is a think-tank, of which there are hundreds if not thousands in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. They make up a good part of the entity referred to as the "Foreign Policy" community (FPC).

These people may be heavily credentialed, but not in the field they seem to be most learned in when they talk about your country and your region, which is child psychology. To hear it from them, the whole region of the middle east and North Africa is as easy to categorize as some simple children in a school yard. They are as manipulative, dismissive, and corrupting as you would expect the behavioural coordinators as Middle East Public School to be. Iraq and Iran are the two ringleader alpha males, getting all the attention and being thrown in detention all the time. Saudi Arabia is the spoiled and infantile rich kid who is given free reign because his parents cut the fattest donor cheques. Hezbollah and Hamas are your ghetto kids, the lowest of the low, the most dangerous who aren't even registered half the time (influential political entities that don't govern or have nations). Turkey is the preppy straight A well dressed student who steals exams and sells drugs and never gets caught. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia are the weird kids with a French nanny nobody pays attention to. Israel is the overachieving teacher's pet who gets no respect and doesn't belong (and still manages to kick people in the balls). Jordan is a pretty girl, not too bright. Dubai is the rich kid who's such a well behaved kiss-ass he's annoying. And Syria is your average sized low-middle class kid who muddles along fine but somehow got put in the "at-risk" file. Libya is that strange kid about whom everybody is sure they will one day say "I always knew there was something off about him..." and Afghanistan is that huge dope who sits way in the back who is in his 20s even though you're supposed to graduate at 13.

And then there is Egypt. Who knows about Egypt? What is said about Egypt? Not a lot. In truth, no schoolyard image comes up for me. All that mattered until a month ago was that it was "free" and "friendly" in our terms. It didn't provoke Israel. It was simple to visit. It had wonders of the world to see and all inclusive resorts to stay in. That was good enough to earn a dictator thirty years of U.S. military aid and unconditional U.S. support. Yes, there were ten or so bullshit elections won with 99.9% of votes for Mubarak, and dissent was not tolerated in any form, but these inconvenient facts could not deter Western "pragmatism" (A favourite term of our friends in the FPC). Egypt was stable in a volatile region and sacrificing ideals was a low price to pay. For American diplomacy that is. The poor Egyptian population, however, paid a very high price. It's starting to look like the money from all those pyramid visits went straight into Mubarak and his buddies' pockets.

These facts were known during the period in which they occurred. So your country did often get lumped in with the other countries in the school yard and painted with the "backward", "stagnant", "corrupt", and "potentially explosive" brushes used by the brooks brothers suit wearing circles of geo-political shrinks in Europe and North America whom you never asked to be psychoanalyzed by. I'm not sure how many of you were aware of this or why you should or would care, but you were basically written off as insignificant. America paid your dictator and then its commentators laughed at you for putting up with him.

Then something happened. In two years, Social Media has become widespread, fine, but something of a bit more consequence has also happened. Grain prices have shot up. Your pitiful wages have not. So there was no realization. There was no two-thirds-of-the-way-through a hollywood movie epiphany where you decided to beat the bad guys and get the girl, although these are the terms some of your American observers think in. You did what any reasonable humans would do and will be doing a whole lot more of. You said, "Holy shit, I cannot afford flour and rice on the fifty dollars a month I earn kissing ass in this five star resort. So F--- this!"

It is incredible. You looked like champions, the whole world is admiring you, and you have made history by seizing your moment and not giving in. I smiled today when I found out the bastard went down. Just don't let the Anderson Coopers of this world steal all your thunder by acting like it is some huge achievement for them, because they think Americans invented freedom and democracy, and you are deciding to be like Americans because you used twitter. These guys didn't have their eye on you and didn't give a shit before the action started happening, and they want to show themselves in the mix because that's how they make their buck. Egypt, I want to know more of your stories, I want to know what your life is like, and I want to see you succeed. I don't want to learn these things through the American media filter.

You are an inspiration. For years, they thought Mubarak was untouchable, and you forced him out with almost no violence. In North America, where we have an opinion on just about every country on earth (as well as vested economic interests in the backs and resources of those countries' citizens), our governments continue to lie to us, abuse and monopolize power, disregard and bypass procedures that are there to protect the integrity of our democratic system, and hand money and influence over to the unaccountable companies and lobby groups that buy it from them on a daily basis. People think our countries don't compare because of the illusions of stability and prosperity that are maintained over here. They are wrong. On one of the countless articles about you this week, I read something to this effect in the comments:

"The problems of North African Arab countries (high unemployment, corrupt pocket-lining dictators, intellectual and economic stagnation) have been well-known and present for decades - the tiny amount of time it took for things to come to a boil is instructive."

Again, great job on deposing your dictator! Welcome to your insane future!

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