Forget for a moment that [as I write this early Wednesday evening] an awesome volcano has rocked Japan, a massive cyclone is threatening Queensland, Australia, a killer winter storm has engulfed half of the U.S., and the largely Republican Senate is about to take its symbolic vote to repeal the health care bill passed last year – and let’s consider what’s happening in Egypt.
Since anti-Mubarak protests began on January 27th – on the heels of the revolution in Tunisia as well as word going out about the Egyptian president grooming one of his sons for the presidency – I’ve been diligently following events in Egypt with great interest, and, somewhat to my surprise, with a huge sense of solidarity with the Egyptian people. With each passing day, the crowds grew in size and diversity, and what I saw was a true revolution by a united people who have been oppressed for the past 30 years. I saw courage and solidarity and a clear message: we won’t take it anymore. The lapsed hippie/activist in me has been thrilled.
As a Jew and an ardent supporter of Israel, I also saw the potential for danger, for further trouble for the continued (and universally accepted) existence of the Jewish State and the ongoing peace efforts with the Palestinians. As a result, I’ve been watching news coverage on a combination of networks: CNN and MSNBC, as well as FOX and PBS (primarily the NewsHour and Charlie Rose).
Not surprisingly, CNN and, to a greater extent, MSNBC, were also enthralled by the dynamism and legitimacy of the Egyptian revolt; they had very little to say about its impact on Israel or the USA. FOX, in turn, saw little more than turmoil and a radical Islamist threat to Israel and the world (more on that later). Only beleaguered little PBS provided truly balanced coverage, examining the event from all perspectives and with input from an assortment of news services and Middle-East experts. All the networks combined provided lots to think about and many ways to think about it.
As I considered President Obama’s untenable position, I was reminded of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in the 1930s, “He may be a sonofabitch, but he’s our sonofabitch.” The U.S. has (and continues to) supported many a despot over the years, because we felt it served our national interest and/or that of our allies. Some people would call that realistic, practical politics. I’m not sure what to call it, but it seems to me we’ve often done this to our peril and inadvertent peril to our friends. I’m no expert, but that’s sure how it seems.
And it seemed all the more so today, after yesterday’s events. Yesterday, approximately two million people gathered peacefully on the streets of Egypt’s major cities and continued to call for the immediate departure of their president. (Indeed, things had been peaceful since Day 2, after the infamous “protective” police squads had been chased off the streets.) The Egyptian Army said it would not fire against peaceful protesters. President Mubarak made the clueless announcement that he wouldn’t run again and would supervise free and fair elections in September. President Obama said reforms must begin immediately, not saying (publicly at least) that our sonofabitch should step down now.
Then today, there was a major game change. Seemingly out of nowhere came a mass of Pro-Mubarak protesters, armed to the teeth, doing battle with the Opposition and attacking the international media. Mubarak denies that his regime instigated this. Again, as I write this, they seem to have taken control of Tahrir Square and other areas. What seemed inspiring has turned ugly, thanks to this turn of events. The U.S. is making impotent calls for an end to the violence. The Egyptian Army, still not taking sides, is trying to keep relative peace and protect the country’s historic treasures. Further unrest is bubbling up throughout the Mid-East and Northern Africa. No one knows what the hell will happen next.
Now, I want to return to the issue of American news coverage of this phenomenon, particularly by FOX, the only network so far to deeply focus on Israel’s position in the midst of all this. It was an education. Last night, I spent a stupefying hour with Glenn Beck, who explained the checkered past of The Muslim Brotherhood (a militant group long based in Egypt) and his belief that it is their intention to take control of Egypt and, along with other Muslim fundamentalist extremists, take over the entire Middle-East and destroy Israel. He explained that this would constitute a caliphate, which is unity among Arab and other Muslim countries. This has happened before, he said, most recently the Ottoman Empire of the 1920s. This seemed entirely plausible to me, and gave me pause about the goodness of the Egyptian revolution.
However, he then went on to describe what he felt would be the logical extension of this power, which would be a Muslim extremist take-over of Asia, Africa, Europe and, eventually, the U.S. This would be The Coming Insurrection, he said, and it would be possible because of the close ties between The Muslim Brotherhood and the well organized American Left (I had no idea there was a well organized American Left, but be that as it may…). Beck described the code words we should be wary of: social justice and change in particular. He warned about community activists. He called out the infamous Bill Ayers, nee the Weather Underground of the 60s, who he says is in a revolutionary bed with The Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, he spent a great deal of time explaining how this uprising would enormously effect the supply and price of oil in the U.S. and elsewhere. I began to feel like I was listening to a Scientologist.
In the end, I, like most of us, I think, don’t know what to make of all this anymore or what to think about it. All I know is that our government can’t talk about democracy and freedom from one side of its mouth and pillow-talk with despotic sonsofbitches from the other. I believe in the legitimacy of Israel and care about (and fear for) its survival. But I also know that millions of people throughout the Middle-East can’t continue to live under oppression – whether by Islamic Fundamentalists or secular rulers. Last but not least, it appears that, contrary to a popular song of the 70s, the revolution will be televised, and how Americans – and other citizens of the world – will respond to it remains to be seen.