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As Long as We Remember...

February 1, 2011

America’s Cairo Power

Roy Meachum

The top story Tuesday from Cairo centers on the “million men (and women)” march that organizers called for. With CNN continuously running in my Frederick home, I duly noted that besieged President Hosni Mubarak appointed a new cabinet, and last evening he finally offered dialogue with opposition leaders.


Meanwhile, the current U.S. administration sits on a fence, careful to avoid offending anyone in the Middle East; especially in Saudi Arabia and the other oil-producing Arab countries. Various “experts” forecast gas prices will mount to historical highs.


Many Americans are shocked to realize Washington exercises absolutely no power over what happens next; despite billions contributed to Egypt for 30 years.


The man on the street in Cairo and up on the Mediterranean coast, in Alexandria, know the aid was at first a reward for the late Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel; film of the Egyptian president charmingly chatting with former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir so touched American politicians’ hearts that they appeared ready to give over the key to the entire U.S. treasury.


Since Hosni Mubarak clawed into the top seat nearly 30 years ago, Egyptians in-the-know accepted the annual hundreds of millions were baldly a bribe to keep the peace with Jerusalem. (The details of Sadat’s assassination were spelled out in Monday’s column: My Poor Egypt.)


By the way, I still lived there when a Swedish company undertook the wretched project of overhauling the phone system. In earlier years, local friends cautioned about trying to use phones; they warned if the reason for the call was very important it was better to go myself.


Barack Obama did not start paying off the military force beside the Nile; fellow Democrat predecessor Jimmy Carter began the bribing. The gentleman from Georgia beamed when his efforts resulted in that year’s Nobel Peace Prize for President Sadat and Israel’s then-prime minister Menachem Begin.


Because of my understanding, I fumed at Hosni Mubarak’s cavalier treatment of my country. But I attributed his attitude mostly to my fellow Americans’ lack of interest in that region, and their startling ignorance of Islam that offended my sense of fair play. Both the lack of interest and ignorance shaped bigotry of a level not known in this country since Martin Luther King, Jr., triggered the Civil Rights Movement.


What most galled was the realization that much of the prejudice was based on Muslim difference from our Judeo-Christian culture. The color of most people who followed the Quran’s “revelations” didn’t help. Egyptians, like their fellow Arabs, tend to be black or swarthy like other people from the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean; Italians, for example, suffered an identical bigotry until recent times.


The general refusal to learn the least thing about the Middle East baffles; in this automobile-centered society it simply makes no sense. But then again, Western consumers who eat more food than Asians and Africans combined give not a fig about farmers and other producers who provide the stuff we load upon our plates.


In other words, I watch CNN from Cairo and Alexandria in a hopeless state; my good friends who unanimously reject Muslims and their Islam, who otherwise demonstrate intellectual brilliance, defend their prejudice and bigotry, in this specific case, against Egyptians with aplomb.


The word “aplomb” may hit some readers as comparable to my Arabic references in this story. I have always written for intelligent human beings; dolts must find their own way.


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