A dozen horses and four camels were not able to destroy the revolution in Egypt. And, I know I sound cold-blooded but the mortality rate of the Egyptian revolution is to-date very low by any historical standards. When the tear-gas smoke dissipates, I predict that we will find that the Egyptian mortality rate dipped in January.
President Obama’s response has improved. He has taken the right narrow path between telling the Egyptians what to do and failing to show support for the democratic aspirations being expressed in the large Egyptian cities. His personal appeal to Mubarak to exit power as a form of expression of respect to his, Mubarak’s, legacy was smart. I will bet Mubarak is an old man who is mostly concerned about his place in Egyptian and world history and about not stepping down just to see Egypt go up in flames. Everything world leaders can do to save his face will promote the swift and orderly arrival of democracy. That’s in Egypt and and in the rest of the tyrant-ridden Middle-East because the other tyrants are watching. How they are treated when they step down has a great deal to do with their willingness to do so.
And yes, one can support the aspirations of 80 million Egyptians to a dignified life and to freedom and be concerned we the impression we, the US, make on allied heads state with respect to faithfulness and steadfastness. I am thinking of the political elite of Pakistan that is taking enormous political and personal risks to maintain an alliance with us over the heads of a nation that is overwhelmingly and primitively anti-American.
Our media continue to cover the events in Egypt and nearby countries vapidly. The ignorance and the superficiality are embarrassing. Of course, one feeds the other. Here are issues they should raise but don’t.
Can anyone spend twelve, or ten, or seven nights in a row on Tahrir Square? To ask the question is to answer it. Young healthy people can stay up in a state of high exhilaration and anxiety three, maybe four nights. Then, they become zombies, or they simply collapse. And where do they go to the bathroom? How about enough calories to sustain their high- stress activities?
The original demonstrators must go home for a night or more after three nights on the barricades. If the numbers on the Square don’t shrink much, it means that the ranks demonstrators are being replenished. Where does the replenishment come from, is worth asking. It could be people from outlying districts or from small towns. It could be members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an important organization that did not originally join the protests. American media reps on the spot might get answers to these questions if they asked. They don’t. I suspect they don’t know enough to ask.
Looking at my television screen for twelve nights in a row, I have formed the impression that the wrong kind of bearded types are more numerous than they were originally. And, yes, I know how to distinguish between Western-oriented intellectuals’ beards and Islamist beards. American reporters on the ground should be able to tell me whether my perception is founded or merely the effect of camera selectiveness. First, they would have to raise the question in their own minds. They don’t.
Fox News, followed by MSNBC, reported Friday, supposedly the “Day of Departure” for Mubarak, that the number of demonstrators had increased. No one took the trouble to state the obvious: In Muslim countries, Friday is Sunday, when most people don’t work, are available for political activity, or simply for political voyeurism.
Anther important issue I would like reporters on the ground to approach. It’s about what seems to not be happening. I would just like to be sure. I did not see a single djellaba in twelve nights of watching Tahrir Square. The djellaba is the normal garb of Egyptian peasants.
What’s going on in the smaller towns of Egypt and in the countryside where most of the population lives? Special envoys in Egypt could spend their time better raising and trying to answer such simple questions than showing us over and over the same pictures of Tahrir Square voiced over with the same tired clichés.
I am watching the rudimentary coverage of the same events by the French media through TV5, the international francophone channel. The French have at least the good sense to send Arabic-speaking reporters on the scene. How clever of them!
Egyptians and Tunisians, and, it’s obvious, millions in other Arab countries, desire democracy. They don’t ad up to 100% of the population, I am sure. Many prefer stability in poverty under an authoritarian form of rule that does not much touch their daily life. The very poor can seldom afford to be revolutionaries. Others are Islamists who only like democracy as a means to an end: One vote, one time.
Here is a quiz I would give to those Arabs who sincerely desire democracy if I had a chance:
1 Do you agree that democracy means fair and honest elections?
2 Do you agree that a free press and free media in general are a condition of free and fair elections and of democracy in general?
3 Do you agree that democracy requires a fair chance of alternance in power?
4 Do you agree that a democratic majority must not seek the elimination of the democratic minority?
5 Do you agree that a democracy cannot survive long when government governs outside the law. Same question: “Is the rule of law” essential to democracy?
6 Name the country or countries in the Middle-East that satisfy to a high degree all these conditions_____________________________
PS The Prime Minister of Iraq just announced he would not seek re-election.
Incidentally, I keep trying to give the same test to extreme American Libertarians. They refuse to see the evidence. That’s because if they admitted that Iraq is a democracy, it would undermine their blind hatred of President Bush’s “war of choice.” I agree it was a war of choice. I think Libertarians are willing to defend their country but only on the Jersey Shore and on the beaches of San Diego. Every time, they try do explain otherwise, they confuse me. And I don’t get confused easily; I have read thousands of student papers. Often, I did not even recognize the language in which they were written!