January 30, 2011

Egyptian Unrest

Like you, I'm glued to the television screen as they broadcast the protests rocking Egypt.  And, I must admit that I'm a little ticked that the entire newscast is focused on this, not because it is happening in a foreign country, but because they have preempted everything and are "reporting" in a loop.  That is, the same tapes of breaking news, interviews, etc., have been spliced together to give you the impression that the station really has something to say. They don't.

As with other protests in foreign countries, major U.S. cities become the stage for demonstrations by the expatriates.  After all, we are the Land of the Free.  Everyone is entitled to free speech.  But in listening to the interviews this evening, I was struck by the oft-repeated statement: "If I were there." Which begs the question: "Why aren't you?"  It's been five days of unrest...Cairo can be reached in 12 hours, more or less.  I guess...I know...that it is safer to display your discontent from afar.

But laying sarcasm aside, I am watching with interest.  This is more personal to me because I've been to Egypt and have seen some of the affected areas.  The discontent arises from abject poverty, a lack of housing, unemployment, etc.   A country of 80 million people and I would swear that most of that 80 million live in Cairo.  Huge sewer pipes, waiting to be laid,  become home to families overnight. We were told that those residing in the countryside flock to the cities in hope of a better life.   Sounds familiar.
When we were there,  many years ago, a loaf of bread cost a penny and it was subsidized by the government.  Mere children were employed in rug factories.  I remember saying that we needed to bring our children over to see how they lived--perhaps they would be more appreciative of how fortunate they are.

I've been to Tahrir Square--the National Museum is located there--and exchanged money there, as well. That's another story.   I was dismayed to learn of the looting taking place at the museum and glad to know that measures have been taken to protect it.  The mishmash of displays threw me for a loop, being used to the organization of our museums, but the relics are unbelievable. As are the ones lying along the roadside.

A memory that will stay with me forever is when I  looked out of the hotel window through a dense fog and realized that the looming, humongous, shapes were the Pyramids. A sense of awe.  Awesome!

It was a whirlwind trip. The country is beautiful as are the diverse people who reflect their heritage of the Turkish, French, British, and Greek occupations. The adage that "everyone has a twin"  was brought home sharply when I turned the corner and ran into the spitting image of my brother, whom I knew was at his home in Maryland.

Museums, pyramids (and they are not all the triangular shapes we know so well), camel rides, mosques, and bazaars.  I toured the mosque shown in Malcolm X and had to bite my lip to keep from jumping up and yelling "I've been there,"  when that fabulous "chandelier" in the mosque, where he was praying,  appeared on the screen.  We dined with the generals who have their own club and, as I learned today, enjoy an elevated status in Egyptian society.  At the time, I didn't know its significance.  We traveled to the northern portion of the country, going through Alexandria, to Port Said, on the Suez.  There I was introduced to tabbouleh which  I am afraid to make in my kitchen because it just won't taste the same.   The bracelets which I wear are a constant reminder of a breathtaking trip.  

I worked for National Geographic and had brushed up on the history and culture; however, the politics of the country were not on my research list. I knew about Nasser and who can forget the assassination of Anwar Sadat?    I remember walking off of the plane and seeing armed guards--they were everywhere.  But I was "fired up" and "ready to go." And the politics have remained low on the radar screen until now.  I realize now that my ignorance then was just as embarrassing as some of the questions and observations being made by the commentators today.

"Why have the people tolerated Mubarak so long?"  "Why have they accepted low wages, etc.?"  "How long will the protests last?"   D-U-H!  From our vantage point, people of the Middle East and other Third World countries are backwards in that they do not employ our concept of democracy, have inordinately high levels of corruption--adhering to "them that got and them that don't"--subjecting the people to dire poverty, illiteracy, and other ills. And while I understand the need to look out for America's interests, at some point, we must realize that we cannot impose our values on other countries.   Every country will not follow our model. As one commentator stated:  "We must separate our aspirations from our hopes."  I hope that the Egyptian people will find a peaceful solution to an intolerable situation.

Be safe. Be Blessed.

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