Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt and some history

Taking my daughter early this morning for her 3rd or 4th try on the ACT (so far she has a 29 and we are hoping for that elusive but valuable 30) and she asked me “what’s going on in Egypt?”

My first thought (though not verbally expressed) was “What rock have you been living under?” then she added they have been at school only two days in the last two weeks (snow days) so …

I began to explain my version – repeat – MY VERSION of what has happened.

I told her in order to understand what is happening today and how it might impact tomorrow; we have to know about yesterday – not in literal terms of course.

I said about 30 years ago Anwar Sadat, then Pres. of Egypt started making peace with Israel. Probably because of those efforts he was assassinated. Hosni Mubarrak took his place. I think at first we were glad because our goal THEN was to keep Egypt from getting too close to the Communist Russians (remember the Wall was still up.) and Egypt (while under Nasser I think) had been flirting with the communists before.

Sidebar: ironic that during the cold war we were worried about the communists getting a foothold in the Middle East. Now our worries are still about who gains control.

Now we need to step back further. I don’t know all the history but I think in the beginning we supported the Shah of Iran. We may have even been responsible for helping him assume (or at least keep) power. The U.S. needed allies in the Middle East.

We all know how that turned out. In 1979 they take over our embassy in Tehran, the first Ayatollah takes charge and an era of militant Islam begins, (maybe not exactly in that order). Iran has been through several different leaders but essentially they are still both religiously and politically oppressed.

Why do I refer to this? Whatever we did in Iran didn’t work. So I told my daughter that what happens next in Egypt is crucial. Will they turn towards democracy? Will they look toward a religious leader and lean toward some form of Shariah law? Or find some middle ground?

I don’t presume to know what form of government the protesters really want in Egypt. Maybe they will be able to craft some sort of govt. that is inclusive and liberal in terms of Islam. I don’t know what role the U.S. should have in that. I’d have to say our track record is not very good.

I told her that after 30+ years, the people of Egypt decided they wanted a new government, they wanted to be politically free and they took to the streets to protest. Maybe getting rid of Mubarrak was the easy part. The tough job is figuring out step 2.

I also suggested she take some of her daily Facebook time and instead spend it reading some articles to get a fuller picture. In 15 or 20 years she will look at Egypt and wonder how they ended up they way they are (in 2026 or so) and if she keeps up and tries to understand what is going on now, while it happens, she’ll have a better handle on it then and can explain it to her children.