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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Can Egypt Change?

Foreign Policy had an interesting collection of pieces today about Egypt's future that I think is worth reading. These articles ask the question of what lies ahead for Egypt after Mubarak kicks the bucket.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Finally, Some Good News

Been Traveling around Egypt for the last 10 days. Posts have been limited due to the lack of Internet in the areas I visited. Not to worry though, have returned to Cairo and will continue my posts.

Egyptians have not had much to smile about in recent years. Economic stagnation, rising unemployment, and high inflation have left Egyptians wondering just what exactly happened to their once great country. They see the development of nations such as India, Brazil, and Turkey and ask themselves "why are we lagging behind?" Certainly, these nations do not possess any resources that Egypt lack. They do not owe their growth to a sudden discovery of oil like the gulf nations. Nor do these states depend on over a billion dollars of US aid every year in order to sustain their livelihood. While these nations have grown into regional powers in recent years, Egypt's influence in the Middle East has dwindled and is almost non-existent today. So much so that the vacuum of power left by Egypt is being filled by 2 non-Arab neighbors, Turkey & Iran.

Yet who is to blame for Egypt's malaise in recent years? In a Democracy, the responsibility always falls with the people. Yet in an authoritarian state, which Egypt clearly is, the responsibility falls with the dictator. That's why Egyptians couldn't help but smile when news broke that Hosni Mubarak is terminally ill, battling a bout of pancreatic cancer which is, in 99% of cases, fatal. Though rumors had been circulating around Egypt for some time that the 82 year old dictator was ill, foreign intelligence agencies, most likely CIA and Mossad, have recently turned these rumors into reality.

I could almost see the relief in people's eyes when relaying the news of their president's condition to them. One man, after being informed of Mubarak's condition, held his hands up and looked to the heavens as if praying for it to be true. Another, uttered the Arabic phrase "fi siteen dahya", loosely translated into "good riddance". Not many Egyptians feel sympathy for the dying president, and why should they? What has Mubarak done for them in his 30 years of running Egypt into the ground?

The question then arises as to who will take over as Egypt's ruler. According to the Egyptian constitution, elections shall be held within 2 weeks if the president dies while in office. Given the draconian restrictions on who may run for president, specified in article 32 of the Egyptian constitution, there is really only one candidate who stands out as most likely to be Egypt's next ruler: The presidents son, Gamal Mubarak. As to whether or not Gamal will do a better job than his father in running Egypt, this is a hard question to answer. Hosni Mubarak has after all, set the bar very, very low.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Winning & Losing

With two defending players closing in fast, the veteran Asamoah Gyan released a fierce left-footed shot past Tim Howard into the top corner of the American goalkeepers net. "Allahu Akbar" erupted the crowd of Egyptian onlookers who had gathered to watch Ghana play the USA at a neighborhood cafe on a quiet Cairo street. One man, carrying a tabla, began rhythmically beating the traditional instrument as a small group of his friends began to sing and dance to the music. Celebrations were so fervent, that one could not be blamed for thinking that it was the Egyptian team who had scored the goal that secured their place in the quarter finals of the World Cup.

"Why are they celebrating?", I thought as I sipped my mint tea in a dimly-lit corner of the cafe. I couldn't figure out if it was because Egypt's west-African neighbors had won, or simply because the USA had lost. I decided to ask one of the dancing men who had returned to his seat after growing tired from all the enthusiasm. "Why are you so happy?" I asked him in my broken Arabic, "Its not as if Egypt won the game". The man looked at me with an annoyed expression on his face, obviously disgruntled by the subtle reminder that Egypt had not even qualified for the world cup. "Because America needs to learn that it's not infallible", he responded, "even they must know when to accept defeat and go home".

There is a tendency for people in the US to think of themselves as indestructible. Hollywood movies, which often show Americans overcoming impossible odds only to find themselves victorious perpetuate this misguided notion. Politicians and media pundits are no better as they constantly remind their audiences of the might and power of the "greatest country on earth". While this certainly has the benefit of creating a strong sense of nationalism within the US, it also has some serious drawbacks. Most other nations understand that sometimes the best course of action is retreat, this concept however, seems absent from the American psyche.

Perhaps most evident in the case of the longest war in American history, Afghanistan. Though anyone who has any knowledge of Afghanistan will recognize that America is attempting to defeat a nation which has not only reigned victorious over the Soviet Union but also the British Empire, the US continues its somewhat futile efforts in the Asian state. Certainly, it's as if Bin Laden set a trap that the US, with its wounded pride after 9/11, willingly and recklessly fell into, pursuing him into the only nation which can claim to have brought two of the greatest empires in history to their knees.

Things haven't been looking too good for the US in recent years. While many Americans are quick to blame the recent economic crises on the housing market and the unregulated derivatives market, they forget the trillions of dollars spent on the two wars fought by the US since 9/11. Economic recession or not, military spending in the US is never seriously questioned and remains disproportionately high compared to the rest of the world. So high in fact that the US still spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. Its no wonder Americans think they're invincible; on paper, the US should have enough military might to win a war against the entire global community.

For the very few Americans who actually follow soccer, the defeat to Ghana was just another loss in just another world cup. No one, not even the most avid US soccer fan truly expected the US to win the cup. Perhaps that's why the sport has such a small following in the US. Because when Americans are not winning, when they are not told that they are the best, they lose interest. They choose to turn a blind eye to defeat and instead focus on their strengths. And what Americans know they are the best at, what they have been told by their politicians and taught in their schools, is that they know how to win wars.