Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Egypt - What's our next sin?

As I write this, Egypt is in its seventeenth day of revolution and it looks like Mubarak is winning. Yesterday on Public Radio International, a reporter interviewed a number of Egyptians who said that Egypt was returning to "normalcy." A few Egyptians cited several characteristics of what normalcy is in Egypt. For example, one shop owner said that the police had warned him not talk to foreigners. That's normalcy, he said. Another said that gasoline prices, set by the government, i.e., Mubarak, had gone up in the few days the stations were closed for the demonstrations, and that was to be expected. That's normalcy. And, banks, gas stations, bakeries and restaurants were open. The one thing that a number of Egyptians said that was not normal was that a thirty-year martial law had been lifted. Huh? Thirty years of martial law? He went on to say that a "curfew" that Egyptians had experienced for nearly thirty years was canceled. Wow. For most of those younger than thirty years old who joined in the demonstrations, they had lived all of their lives under martial law, never knowing any other system. I have to think that it's a wonder that they demonstrated at all, having never known a free and democratic society. Being controlled by the state would have been so ingrained in their minds that any thought of freedom and democracy would have been their last thought. Maybe that's the reason that it took so long to rise up against Mubarak?

But, there is another reason at the bottom of the insurrection. It should be obvious to all, but I didn't hear many say it out loud. The real cause is the root of all evil - Money. And, with money comes power and, of course, military martial law to keep the power, and the money, through oppression of those who don't have either. All I heard was a hint here, a word there, such as a small byline in the news that a steel magnate was among those who resigned their high positions in Egypt's National Democratic Party and government, along with Mubarak's son. And we also heard, if we were listening, that the price of oil and food commodities went up, even while they were already priced above what most Egyptians could afford. Prices so high that they caused a food-riot a few years ago. If we were paying attention, we would have also heard the reason why commodities were going up. It was not because supply and demand changed, although Fox News said that, because supply had not suddenly decreased and demand had not suddenly increased. There were no more people needing oil and food before the demonstrations than there were after the demonstrations. The population had not suddenly exploded overnight. Nor had shipping been interrupted. But, speculators were guessing that the Suez Canal would be closed, and so they bought oil and food commodity futures which caused prices to rise overnight, or should I say over a market day, but the canal didn't close. Nevertheless, the price of oil and food went up by 15 to 25% in Egypt. Speculators. Wall Street speculators. Gamblers. No wonder Mubarak raised the salaries of state workers by 15%, reported as a concession to demands we heard, but the truth is that Mubarak had no choice. If he hadn't raised those salaries, he would have had even more disgruntled citizens. Citizens who worked for him and who could have stopped government operations in its tracks, for example the police and army who are his primary protection. He is no dummy.

To hear the Right-Wing talk about freedom and democracy, one would expect to hear support for the Egyptian revolution in the streets of Cairo shouting for freedom. But, that's not what we heard. We heard hypocrisy instead. We heard cries for "stability," for continuing Mubarak's dictator and military rule, for the sake of Israel. We heard the same from Israel. We heard fear of the "Muslim Brotherhood." Glenn Beck went on a rant about an Islamic Caliphate, a Muslim Nation, stretching from China to Britain. I think we can no longer say tongue-in-cheek and facetiously that Beck is insane. He really is insane, and it isn't funny. Fear, fear and more fear heaped on us by a propaganda machine, Fox News. Can we deny it any longer? Beck, Palin, Limbaugh and a number of neo-conservatives of the Bush Administration and a majority of Republicans in Congress came out on the side of Mubarak to continue the military rule of Egypt. Simply astonishing!

If we were listening carefully, we may have heard the real meaning of democracy - a government chosen by the people. Of course, there is danger to the United States when "other" countries choose their own government. We hope that they choose wisely. We hope that Egyptians don't choose as Germany did in the 1930s; when they chose Hitler. But, the reason they chose Hitler was primarily listening to, and believing, the lies they heard in the propaganda that Hitler spread which, by the way, was spread through the constant fear mongering over Germany's radio and newspaper media. We hope that Egypt is not listening to propaganda; we hope that Egyptians are smart or knowledgeable enough to know the difference between propaganda and truth. The odds are against them in a corporate controlled world. If you don't believe that or deny it, then you need to watch "The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power," a documentary.

And, what about the bogeymen in the story, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Jazeera? These were hyped as the terrible duo in Egypt by the American Right Wing media, O'Rielly, Hannity and Limbaugh and, of course, Mubarak himself. Mubarak's state controlled media was, for a few days, the only source of news in Egypt while the demonstrations were going on. Al Jazeera television was blocked, as was CNN, NBC, ABC and others. Al Jazeera is a news organization headquartered in Doha, Qatar. It was formed in 1996 by a few investigative reporters who worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation World Service. Its creed is to provide truth to the Arab world. I read it regularly. It seems to me that they try very hard to do what they say they will do; to tell the truth as best they can determine it. So, is Al Jazeera a bogeyman? It doesn't seem to be. It is only the Right-Wing media that tells us it is.

I'm so glad that I finally got to hear, straight from the horse's mouth, several different spokesmen from the Muslim Brotherhood. I did not hear what I expected to hear. Instead of pro-Al Qaeda or extremist statements, I heard phrases describing freedom of choice, of speech, for liberty, for a democratic process, for a liberal democracy. I heard phrases and statements very similar to The Moral Majority, an American religious organization. What I heard matched perfectly with the hopes expressed by the ideals in the United States. I did not hear a bogeyman, or something we should fear. I heard an irony that, while the Right-Wing in this country is moving more and more to a police-controlled state, a state where we are under a Patriot Act eavesdropping, subjected to body searches at airports, and our homes can be invaded at police or political whims, I heard hope for liberal ideals in Egypt. I guess what's good for the Gander is not good for the Goose. According to the Right-Wing, what we want for others is not what we want for ourselves. And then? Logic was turned on its head; nobody heard the Brotherhood - it's a bogeyman. All we hear from The Fox is fear!

As far as I'm concerned, Obama and Secretary Clinton came out on the right side of the argument; for the people of Egypt and democracy, a complete contradiction to the United State's policy toward Egypt for the past thirty years. But, democracy is not winning. Mubarak and the military are winning and the people of Egypt are getting tired and revolution is petering out. Mubarak will simply outlast the opposition. It is more likely that Egypt and us will settle back into that old comfortable sofa of the status quo. Too bad. Things were getting exciting there for a moment. I think Thomas Jefferson said of the French Revolution something like, "a little revolution every once in a while never hurt any country." I have to agree with him.

I've seen a few demonstrations in my life, and I'm not talking about a walk down Market Street in San Francisco. I mean real bloody demonstrations; riots and I did everything I could to stay away from them. I've seen police beat students in a Central Market area student riot. In that same market, I watch executions and I saw the charred bodies of Buddhist monks after they burned themselves in protest for peace. But, it was not Vietnam 1964-65 that I thought of first when listening to the stories of Egypt. I thought first of Limon, Colorado where we happened to stop a few years ago.

Limon, CO is the strangest town I've ever visited, and the eeriest. It was spooky. Limon, a town of about 2,000 people, is located on Interstate 70 about 75 miles from Denver. On that late evening we were hoping to make it to Denver for the night, but out in the middle of nowhere, Limon offered a hotel and a better chance for a longer night's sleep. We were driving from Hays, Kansas, on our way to California after a family reunion, and we had stopped at a Prairie Dog Ranch, that highway billboards had advertised for a hundred miles, that had delayed us and it was getting late. We stopped at the second hotel, The Quality Inn, as we entered the town. In the middle of summer, late July, Colorado was experiencing a bizarre cold weather event; it was below 40 degrees. The radio announced the strange weather. As soon as I got out of the car, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. This place is spooky; dark and dreary, right out of Edgar Allen Poe's poems, tap, tap, tapping on my chamber door. The guy behind the counter suggested we look at the "honeymoon suite" before we made a decision on the room we wanted. He took us there. It was a gaudy single room containing a heart-shaped bed with a red satin bedspread, a mirror on the ceiling, an ornate bathtub on a raised pedestal and a toilet in plain sight in the room. "Give it to you for $50," he said. "No, thanks," I laughed, "do you have anything a little more traditional?" "Are you sure?" he said, "that's really cheap!" He smiled, two front teeth missing among his tobacco-stained front teeth; an eerie smile. I didn't want to be rude, but I was losing patience. "I'm sure," I said as benign as I could. "I think we need something a little more simple." He showed us another room more to our liking, a bed and a separate room for the shower and toilet and no ceiling mirror and heart-shaped bed. I recall thinking that we'd happened into an Alfred Hitchcock movie or Twilight Zone television show. He said we could get something to eat down Main Street at the only place that was open, a saloon/restaurant. "Everybody's there," he said. I was tempted to drive on to Denver. It was getting colder and I was getting more uncomfortable, wondering if the town had a chainsaw or hatchet killer among its citizens or wondering if we were in a Franz Kafka novel in which we could not escape. It came to mind.

As we were told, the saloon was full, but we found a place to sit in a booth, the only seats left, with another couple who lived in Limon. Through the front window we could see three other hotels in the town, one named The Pink Cadillac. And, it was painted bright pink. The hotel next to it was a bright blue. Just more eerie clues to me. We learned from the couple in the booth that the entire town was owned by one man, a rancher. I recall asking, "Do you mean nobody owns their house or business?" "Nope," the woman said, "not a thing. Everyone rents." Well, I don't think I believed that, even though her husband nodded in agreement. But, her stories about Limon didn't settle my nerves about staying the night. Bizarre was normalcy in Limon. Later, I asked the waitress how many people lived in Limon. "As few as possible," she said, and laughed. "They leave as soon as they can. That's normal!" Normalcy.

We stayed the night and I awoke at the slightest noise at least twenty times. The next morning I stepped outside for a cigarette and a man came out of the room next to us. He had a Bible in his hand. After a few comments about how cold it was - puddles had iced over during the night - he asked, "Do you believe the Earth will end?" I recall hesitating, since one never knows where a conversation about that will lead, and I said, "I've heard the stories." "Esau was wrong, you know," he said. "Esau?" I asked. "Yes, Esau was Jacob's older brother and is the father of Islam." "That's interesting," I said, "I don't believe I knew that." I asked him where he was going. "I'm a Mennonite," he said. "We are going to a Mennonite convention in support of world peace." "That's good," I said. "Yes," he said. "We want President Bush to continue his war against Islam." I was surprised that a journey for peace actually wanted war, but I don't think I said anything. I was also surprised that a Mennonite congregation existed. I thought that particular sect had died out long ago. I recall thinking that I didn't need any more portents to know that we needed to get the hell out of Limon. I may have even prayed, "Okay! Okay, God! I got the message! I'm leaving! Keep me safe while I get out of here!"

Since we had decided to drive south to the Grand Canyon, we left Limon driving south-west on two-lane Highway 24 hoping to angle across Colorado to Arizona, and I was really glad to leave Limon. As it turned out, we should have taken Interstate 70, the shortest route out of Colorado. Before we left Colorado, we ran into a half-dozen drenching thunder storms and a mountain snow storm on Highway 160 that forced us to turn back a hundred miles to Alamosa and stayed another night in Colorado. Finally, in desperation, we took Highway 285, a route directly south to Albuquerque, New Mexico, just to get the hell out of Colorado. Later I learned that Limon, CO is notorious for one of the most heinous lynchings in American history. A guy convicted of murdering a woman was tied to a stake and burned to death as punishment in 1900. He burned while screaming for someone to shoot him. But, the town watched him burn instead. I will never drive through Colorado again. I will never stop in Limon again.

Why does Egypt remind me of Limon? Limon was as an oppressive place, to me, as I've ever been. I couldn't imagine living there. I can't imagine anyone living there. But, people do live there and they've adapted and succumbed to their fate or fortune in Limon where, apparently, a local wealthy and powerful rancher controls much of their fate or fortune, even if I don't believe he owns everything. In Limon, everyone would benefit if they controlled more of their own lives. In Egypt all Egyptians would benefit if they were allowed to pursue their own government which, by all indications from reliable sources, appears to be a liberal democracy. We really should let that happen and help it along if we can.

It is now several hours after I wrote the above and the revolution momentum has changed. I guess my powers of prophecy are nil to none. It seems that whatever I say will happen, the exact opposite occurs. Instead of tiring out, the largest crowd to date has formed in Tahrir Square, Cairo, demanding that Mubarak resign. I should sell my prophecies to Las Vegas bookmakers. I'm sure they could bet against me and make millions. That should be worth a million or so to me, don't you think?



Anonymous said...

You know dave, I was born and raised in Colorado and I have been through Limon many a time. Though it may be a somewhat oppressing place it is by far not scary. One thing you need to remember is that there are many small town in America that give the same vibe. We need to respect the people that live there and work there. Most of the people who need these towns provide you with the food you eat everyday. We should be supporting these small towns and stopping as we travel to give them a little business. I think you hve a lot of nerve comparing Limon and Colorado to Egypt.

Dave Clark said...

Chuckle. Do I detect a little national pride? Limon probably is a comfortable place to live, if one lives there. But, to suggest that it is not like Egypt? People are the same the world over. All desire some control over their own lives. If in fact a rich rancher controls much of what goes on in Limon, then it is no different than Egypt. Why should I like the conditions in Limon just because I get food from Limon? Why should I like the conditions in Egypt just because the Suez Canal is open to shipping where tankers and bulk carries brings me oil and food? Need a little more thought, there.