What next, Ahmed?

There is a proverb about patience, “All things come to he who waits”. There are a variety of endings to the proverb, Ranging from “Provided he knows what he is waiting for” (an exercise in applied patience) to “They come but often too late” (a refutation of patience). The phrase is a cornerstone of democracy, If you’re not happy with this administration, work on a new one. When Condoleezza Rice said “We’ll be fine under Obama” she was commenting on the fact that another election wold still take place, he is not President for life.

Democracy is the answer to dictatorships, free elections are the basis of democracy. As Americans, we try to free people from oppressive dictatorships, sometimes by replacing one dictator with a less oppressive dictator (long term strategy), sometimes by introducing democracy directly (medium term strategy). The problem has become that we live in a world seeking an instant strategy, and that just isn’t possible.

There are many reasons I’m not comfortable in crowds. One is the incendiary logic of panic. Perhaps you remember the nightclub fire in Brazil earlier this year, or at least the Cocoanut Grove fire back in 1942. That kind of thing happens all the time. There was the Who concert in Cincinnati back in 1979, and just my personal experience at the California Jam II, when I found myself carried by the crowd, and felt a chain link fence passing under my feet. Crowds can take you places you don’t want to go.

Mob rule is a scary concept, because in a second you can become the object of the mob’s ire. Things can turn and change quickly, with no more of a trigger than an angry shout.

I have suggested in earlier articles that soldiers are not policemen. They do not have the less than lethal avenues to deal with civil unrest, and are likely to respond to violence with violence. When a mob believes that their violence will not be responded to in kind, a tragedy is the only outcome.

Most people have not dealt with death directly. You may know someone who died, attended a funeral, or even stayed in the hospital with someone who was dying. But until you have blood spatter on you, watch people standing beside you fall for the last time, or actually put an end to another person while looking in their face, you have not dealt directly with death. It is humbling, and affects different people in different ways.

Today in Egypt, we are hearing the cries of “I didn’t want it to come to this!” from the same people who were shouting “Death to (name your scapegoat)!”. Two thousand years ago a great teacher said “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword” not too many miles from Cairo. The lesson has yet to be accepted.

Hosni Mubarak assumed the presidency of Egypt upon the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Thirty years later it was fairly obvious he was a dictator, and the people of Egypt demanded his removal. Seeing his country being overrun by mobs, he stepped down, accepting arrest and a life sentence (at 83 that sentence shouldn’t be very long). Elections were held, and Mohamed Morsi was elected president.  Democracy in action. As might be expected, Morsi wasn’t the best choice, it’s hard to live in a dictatorship and undersatnd the workings of an open democracy. It is not unusual for a first elected president to be a failure, and with the political and economic climate Morsi stepped into he didn’t have much of a chance.

A year later, when Morsi had failed to solve all the problems of Egypt, the people took to the street again. Imagine if American politicians faced that kind of deadline, and the protestors had easy access to fully automatic weapons? After hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths, the military stepped in, arrested Morsi, placed him in secret confinement, and appointed an interim president.

I do not believe this fits the classic definition of “Military Coup”, but there are not many other things you can call it. The Obama administration refuses to call it a coup, because doing so would force an end to aid to Egypt. Thinking they can buy their way into a diplomatic solution, they’ve left that door open, but the fact is, the military, which is an autonomous force within Egypt, doesn’t need the money, and they have all the tanks and aircraft they can use.

The military had hoped to put an end to civil unrest, so they could get back to running their factories. Unfortunately, the population had just been taught that violent protests result in change, so the pro Morsi groups (with the justification of democracy denied) and the anti Morsi groups (with claims ranging from “Morsi was an Islamist” to “Morsi was an American puppet”) shut down Egypt with escalating violent protests and fighting. With the situation spiraling towards chaos, the military stepped in again, and the mobs didn’t pick up on the subtle difference between the police and soldiers. The military returned fire in a manner designed to suppress the protestors, killing hundreds.

Absolute chaos has ensued. Order no longer exists, and looting is rampant. Totally uninvolved parties, like the small Christian community, find themselves under siege as ancient grudges are addressed. Without a standing political system (as in Syria, where precisely the same thing is happening), there is no future other than military rule. Not that I hold out any hope for Syria.

The other night I watched as Egyptians tore open their shirts daring the soldiers to shoot them. On camera, of course, not in front of soldiers. The soldiers have tried everything else, if you give them no other choice, they will shoot you. Do not stand in front of a man challenging the authorities to use force, let him lead the charge.

I do not want my message to be missed, so I wish to make my point clearly. Egypt was more interested in “Change” than “Progress”. Now they have neither. Protests grow into mobs and become violent. DO NOT let this happen in your country. Be patient.

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14 comments on “What next, Ahmed?

  1. I’ve believed all of my adult life (because before that I didn’t care) that 1) democracy is the best policy for human society- so far, 2) you can’t just say it’s so and create an opportunity for elections in places that have no experience in governing themselves, 3) the Middle East may have been historically ruled by ‘tribes’ for a reason, 4) massive, highly marketable natural resources in the hands of societies (term used loosely) where half of these societies potential contributors are behind closed doors and niqabs will only, at best, be able to take ‘baby steps’, and 5) the United States Government is increasingly crafting a foreign affair policy that stands for an increasingly empty cup of ameba- and by that I mean spineless. My grandfather used to say, before you can solve any challenge you have to have the guts to look it in the eye. We, my friend, seem to be wearing sunglasses.

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  2. Mari Collier says:

    I prefer the republic that originally was set up. Those men were scholars. They knew what happened in Greece and later Rome as democracy took over. No, they were not like the democracies of our modern world, but they led to collapse anyway. Right now the Middle East is embroiled with civil unrest. So far, our country has not been, but it is the older workforce that has been sidelined in this recession. What happens when more and more young people cannot find employment? They once went into the armed forces, but the military is downsizing. That option is dwindling.

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    • kblakecash says:

      You make several good points. Scholarship is on the decline, leadership is typically short sighted these days. The Middle East is facing the concept of democracy as “hear my voice” rather than “majority rule”. How we deal with it here will depend on older moral force rather than the work force, as generations of indulgence face reality.

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