Friday, November 25, 2011

Egyptians in the Streets, Americans in the Mix and Freedom Can Make Some Queasy

Kamal el-Ganzouri, the new Egyptian Prime Minister, appeared on TV the other day and had that deer in the head lights look to him. Indeed, he seemed infected by that nervous tic that infests all last ditch leaders of doomed regimes. It is the look of a man who seems sure there is a gallows somewhere in his near future.

He has reason to think that. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in Egypt once more, despite promises of an election process beginning in a couple of days. The masses are on edge and the career track, not to mention life expectancy, of anyone put into power by the military seems limited at best.

el-Ganzouri's job history has not helped his cause. He was a member of the deposed regime for eighteen years. In fact he was its prime minister from 1996-1999. It makes you wonder what that shadowy military junta was thinking. The despised Hosni Mubarak is on trial for his life and they appoint one of his boys to run the country. While no one has ever accused professional military men, anywhere, of being astute political strategists, this move seemed a literal invitation to stir up more unrest and violence.

Well if that is what the military wanted that is what they got. Tens of thousands have flooded into Tahrir Square chanting things like "Illegitimate, Illegitimate!" Nearly forty have been killed and pungent clouds of tear gas have once again drifted through the streets of Cairo.

As always a few Americans have felt the need to watch or record the proceedings from a little too close up. Derek Sweeney, Luke Gates, and Gregory Porter, students at American University in Cairo were busted on top of a university building near the Square. The police charged them with joining in with protesters as they tossed fire bombs at the authorities. The trio denied all charges and appear to have been released from custody.

Several things happen to Americans when they go overseas. Number one, they often seem to think that since they are beyond the boarders of the United States all rules of civilization and normalcy no longer apply. They can behave as beastly and depraved as is humanly possible with no consequences whatsoever. Number two, since they are Americans they can be anywhere they want, whenever they want and nothing will happen to them. They are shocked, shocked when they realize police in other countries will arrest anyone and everyone. That the authorities don't have to read them constitutional rights, provide them with a lawyer, and if they are a mind to, will give them a few shots to the testicles just for fun. No, getting popped in places like Cairo isn't like being questioned by the Nichols Hills, Oklahoma police department.

Lastly American liberal idealism doesn't apply in certain parts of the world. Especially those parts where the military run things. Soldiers generally have no tolerance for people who believe in things like freedom of the press. Mona Eltahawy, a columnist and activist with dual American-Egyptian citizenship, learned that the hard way. She was filming the protests with her camera phone when she was surrounded by police and taken away. She has accused Egyptian police of sexually assaulting her, beating her, breaking one hand and the other arm. She says they groped her all over and called her, among other things, "a whore."

Well, Mona, you aren't in Kansas any more. It isn't an Arkansas-Louisiana St. football game. It is a revolution. When dealing with a military that has no legal restraints and hasn't had, ever; one that is hanging on for dear life, barbarity is going to be the norm.

The Egyptian revolution poses a problem for both the U.S. and Israel. Both nations can talk about supporting the march toward open and free elections and the will of the people. However, in their heart of hearts, they both know the results of those free elections could mean that Islamic fundamentalists could become a real power in the new government. It is not a prospect either wants to deal with.

The Egyptians are going to have a new government, or a military dictatorship that makes Mr. Mubarak look like a screeching liberal. One is an anathema to liberty the other is a step into the unknown.

Either way the middle east is not going to stabilize. Dangers there will persist for generations, if not for all eternity.

It almost makes you wish for the good old days of the cold war doesn't it?

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