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As Long as We Remember...

February 15, 2011

Egyptian Ennui

Roy Meachum

In recent days, endless chatter and opinions about Egypt’s future induced in me a condition known as ennui, defined in Merriam Webster: “feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction.”


With considerable hindsight Americans are being told what happens next, on the bases of particular hypotheses. With great authority and immense satisfaction, talking heads and writing fingers insist they are right. So, how does this world find itself in considerable turmoil when we had so many crafty, intelligent women and men in our midst?


As a journalist and a human being that came to love Egyptians and their country, but not their politicians, I recorded no peeps or warnings from individuals and organizations, including our governmental agencies. I was certainly listening. But it turns out my hearing aid was not directed at the Working Group on Egypt (WGE), formed about a year ago.


“Egypt is at a critical turning point,” their report begins. The committee is co-chaired by Michael Dunn, working for the Carnegie Endowment’s Arab Reform Project; he hung around the White House, a background that earned him the present job. Beside Mr. Dunne, in the other chair, sits Robert Kagan, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. They represent what were once known as “eggheads,” very derogatively.


The WGE issued a warning a week ago, when the Tahrir Square protesters were tuning up; the statement said the administration “may acquiesce to an inadequate and possibly fraudulent transition process in Egypt.”


The process did not proceed, not because of White House or State Department awareness of the possible fraud and inadequacy, but because the people along the Nile resoundingly rejected any notion of compromise.


After Hosni Mubarak vacated Cairo’s “Big Chair,” there was a big commotion to ensure status quo, mainly by “strange” partners Saudi Arabia and Israeli. Caught in a bind between its most-favored nation – ever, and the kingdom that nominally controls oil supplies for the whole planet, the Oval Office and the Foggy Bottom-based department, were talking “stability” over human rights, while I watched and listened shocked!


Not only the size but the discipline of the demonstrators won the battle. In truth, as I wrote before for, the United States was utterly incapable of influencing in any way the outcome in Tahrir Square.


Almost nine months ago, in June 2010, WGE Chairmen Dunne and Kagan wrote for The Washington Post op-ed page:


“The Obama administration, in pursuit of an illusory stability, stands mute and passive as the predictable train wreck draws nearer…it is repeating the mistake that Cold War-era administrations made when they supported right-wing dictatorships – right up until the point when they were toppled by radical forces.”


WGE quotes in this column must be attributed to Jackson Diehl, the deputy director of the Post editorial and opinion pages. According to right-wing fiction, my first post-Army employer toes strictly the Obama White House party-line. Egyptians say: zift!


Although the Washington newspaper slips every morning through my yellow front door, for whatever reason, I did not catch the June op-ed piece. Mea maxima culpa. I’m very grateful for Mr. Diehl’s Wednesday column. I never read the Washington Group for Egypt’s name; other publications referred to the WGE without saying who they are.


Coming two days before Hosni Mubarak’s pragmatic stepping down, I was comforted by the group’s warnings and even more irritated with “the talking heads and writing fingers” that induced ennui.


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