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November 25, 2011

Om Misr/Mother Egypt

Roy Meachum

There is no Thanksgiving in Egypt. But with elections scheduled Monday, Cairo’s Tahrir Square was filled with noises, gunshots and tear gas and, most of all, people. The Square was not the birthplace of Arab Spring, but its best known symbol.


Tens of thousands turned out to protest high-ranking military that hangs onto power; their fears justified by events in 1952. Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser led a coalition of armed forces officers that dumped King Farouk and moved into his palaces. Having assassinated Nasser’s successor – another former colonel, M. Anwar Sadat – General Hosni Mubarak held on to autocratic power for over 30 years.


Most important to Washington, Mr. Mubarak enforced the deal Mr. Sadat made with Tel Aviv, which is the very foundation of U.S. Middle Eastern policy. I lived in Cairo when the benefits of the 1977 deal started to flow in; the American government opened its coffers to Egypt, not as much as Israel. The point remains. The State Department replied cautiously this week to reporters’ questions. By no means, did Foggy Bottom endorse the current struggles in Cairo.


In the last days of last winter, the Army turned tank cannons away from the crowd refusing to back-up police and security services – renamed this week as the Ministry of Homeland Security, a literal kissing the rump of Washington, obviously. The cheers turned to shrieks this week.


The Muslim Brotherhood, which will certainly gain a hefty majority in the new parliament, did not endorse this week’s demonstrations; not trusting to the One God (Allah), they fear anything that might sidetrack next week’s balloting. In any event, since coming out from behind the door and legitimized, they’ve proved more moderate than their reputation portrayed them; there are more radical Muslim parties, but they are balanced by secular organizations, not welcoming Sharia, Islamic law.


While most Americans seemingly – at least – reject automatically any news from the Middle East, unless terrorism is involved, which generates the ignorance that breeds more terrorism. Human nature is such that any country far away, geographically or culturally, does not create interest. There are hundreds of Central Americans in Frederick, mostly divided between El Salvador and Nicaragua, with a dash of North America’s Mexicans. Most of my fellow county residents don’t know. They share with their fellow countrymen and women little curiosity. They are usually anti-Semitic, hostile to both Arabs and Jews. What a pity that costs hundreds of young American lives!


As the second largest nation Muslim nation – right next to Indonesia – what happens in Egypt deserves our full-time attention. With a projected population of some 83 million, the country clustered mainly around the Nile River is important to you and me, as anything that happens at the junction of Market and Patrick streets.


Meanwhile, I am not alone in Frederick weeping for Om Misr; during the months I lived there Mother Egypt became my second country, hungry and politically battered. On the other hand, I cannot condone the three young Americans accused of tossing Molotov cocktails at security forces; they’re all students at American University in Cairo. This struggle must be left to Egyptians, and they’re doing well.


The military promised presidential elections in June and withdrawal from the political scene. Insha’Allah, as Arabs say. God willing, in Frederick.


We’ll see.


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