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Watching Egypt, Tenuously

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For the last week, I’ve woken up without the typical twentysomething’s thoughts of grease and/or hangovers on my mind. Instead, my first thoughts of the nascent mornings have been about a group of people stewing on the other side of the globe, the protesters in Egypt.

I’ve rolled from bed, rubbed the fading sleep away, and sped my Wal-Mart laptop to the front page of The Daily Dish. Typically, the Dish provides a window into the antic world of governmental fallibility, or viable strategies for debt reduction, and so on. But for the last week—just as Andrew Sullivan has gone missing, felled by a murderous bronchial ailment—the site has been little more than a Western pipeline for all stories, facets, and angles that have to do with Egypt. And so, every morning over the past week, I’ve gulped down a bowl of Raisin Bran, glancing up to see my roommate lurching around in only his green Grinch boxers, and scrolled through the latest updates the Dish has to offer.

The results have been both impressive and encompassing. The Dish isn’t so much a generator, especially on a topic as opaque as Egyptian politics, as a refractor, a focus. Through the Dish, I’ve discovered Georgetown’s Mark Lynch, the Century Foundation’s Michael Hanna, and the aptly named Arabist, a man whose job I envy both a lot and none at all. I’ve found Foreign Policy, come to demand that America carry al-Jazeera, and nearly splintered my mouse button refreshing EnduringAmerica.com’s Egyptian micro-blog. I’ve checked the New York Times a handful of times, and glanced in rare passing at CNN’s coverage, but my information has come from far off of the beaten path. Never have I found the Houston Chronicle quite so dated as I have over the last week.

Most of it is news: recaps, updates, statuses. As timely as possible, the information comes with little reflection and infrequent orientation—claiming that the moment is a watershed doesn’t make it so, doesn’t make it reverberate any more. So I was all the more thankful when the Dish linked to zunguzungu, a site I’d never before read. In a mere four paragraphs, Aaron Bady bundled almost all of what I’ve been thinking—the impotence, and insanity, the voyeuristic support—into a coherent, well-written post:

We become spiritually dead inside when we accept injustice, when we think that expecting it is “realistic,” and watching and being realistic about the world around me has made me a much more angry, frustrated, and bitter person than I would like to be, need to be. I suspect there are a lot of holy things I’ve forgotten how to dream, a lot of words for “freedom” that I’ve lost or misplaced. And that’s the reason why—since I wasn’t here—I can’t stay away from my tiny, tenuous connection to what’s happening in Egypt right now, this fragile cord that connects me to Al Jazeera, to Mona Eltahawy, to that guy who was dancing on top of that troop transport truck sometime yesterday morning. That’s why these pictures and images and possibilities mean so much to me, even so far away as they are.

Tenuous. I don’t know a single Egyptian. Fortunate to escape Portland’s overwhelming homogeneity, I’ve come to know—I’ve befriended—people of all stripes: Pakistanis, Russians, Tanzanians, Turks, Koreans, Costa Ricans, Iranians, Chileans, Chinese, New Zealanders, Ghanaians, Saudi Arabians. In a matter of weeks, I’ll be swilling vodka with Kazakhs—and probably Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, as well. The 1960s’ removal of racially-wrought immigration quotas has allowed my generation a pleasure our parents never knew: becoming friends with those whose families hadn’t come from Europe or whose ancestors hadn’t been in America since the days of Betsy Ross and Nat Turner. Despite living in one of the most diverse cities—and despite attending one of the most diverse schools—in America, I don’t know a single Egyptian. And that makes the situation all the more … poignant, I suppose. Distanced, but poignant. And all the more tenuous.

I don’t know anyone else to speak with on the issue, so I’ve started a sort of rear-guard, cover-my-tracks approach. Reading what I can find. Tweeting where I can. Trawling the Dish for the best links of the day. While I sip coffee thousands of miles away, these people are lying down for their beliefs, standing, dancing, unfazed by the water cannons and tear gas and rubber bullets. Millions have participated. Many have died. I don’t want to dabble in narrative, but you can’t help but be moved by the … valor, or intransigence, or conviction of it all. And you can’t help but wonder how far this thing is going to spread.

Protests in Yemen, Jordan, and the Sudan have cropped up, rumblings in Uganda have now started, and the outlines of Iran in 2009 are starting to fill with murmur—tepid, but still. And Iran, still limping from that Green Movement, is the only thing standing between the Arabs and Central Asia, whose strongmen lord still. A semi-lucid, mostly ludicrous Russia plods above, and an expanding Chinese umbrella bastions the East. What will become of them? I don’t know if this is Eastern Europe of 1989 or Africa in the 1950s or the US/French Revolutions of the late 18th century—I forewent an education in such matters for the study of media relations in sport. I only know that you’d be a fool to not feel a swell of pride in the Egyptians, and their Tunisian brethren, and the entire push of pan-Arab freedom that has taken seed.

So maybe that’s why I do it, why I forestall my Mariners and Batman and Facebook news to spend the hours reading the news of Egypt. Pride. And I want all of you to be proud, too. I want you to be proud not of the outcome—for if the Muslim Brotherhood comes out on top, this will all have been for naught—but of the purpose. I want you to feel unease when you read that the U.S. channels $2 billion annually into Mubarak’s coffers—$2 billion filtered from your tax money, $2 billion that has (mostly) transferred into the water cannons and tear gas and rubber bullets in Cairo’s checkerboard checkpoints. I want you to read just a little bit more into the Egyptian people’s grievances, and see where it takes you. See what else you can find. Half a world away, it’s the least we can do.

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About Casey Michel

  • carlos kar

    they are a brave men…..