I’m back in Cairo getting up to speed on where things are right now with the Egyptian revolution. If you can pull yourself away from the latest appearance by Col. Gaddafi, here is some great writing on Egypt.
Max Rodenbeck has a fantastic “how did we get here and where is all this going” overview in the New York Review of Books. Rodenbeck puts the uprising in a regional context and explains how Egyptians had lost their national dignity under Hosni Mubarak.
“During the three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, Egypt grew increasingly irrelevant. Grinding poverty persisted in the most populous Arab country, reducing its relative weight as rival economies in Turkey and the Gulf flourished. Its culture became inward-looking, focused on travails and hardships that meant little to other Arabs. Its close alignment to America reduced its political role to that of a pawn. Not only Egyptians themselves but all their neighbors were pained and puzzled by this loss of stature. To a great extent, it was the product of Mubarak’s own character.”
The NYRB also has a brilliant first-person account of recent events on streets of Cairo from Yasmine El Rashidi. She brings out some amazing scenes from this unfinished revolution:
“Everyone I have spoken to over the past few days is concerned about the current situation. Many are anxious about strikes and growing civil disorder. Or that the banks—closed much of last week—may close again soon. There is general unease about the army and its growing power. We have become accustomed to tanks rolling through our streets; most of the soldiers are young, and in many ways just like us. But while the military leadership has arrested former business leaders and ministers, and corruption cases are now being reviewed, it is also becoming much more assertive about curfews, and activists have been alarmed by reports that people detained during the revolt were tortured. The reluctance of the military to release some of those arrested is unsettling too. Some people I know have been questioned in the past few days, and soldiers have been seen filming protesters with camcorders.”
Then, a great overview from the International Crisis Group, which includes some absolutely stunning quotes that makes for damn good reading.
“The [Egyptian] parliamentary [in late 2010] elections spilt the gasoline, Tunisia lit the match.”
“[I]f we still have honour and want to live with dignity in this land, we have to go down [into the streets] on 25 January. We’ll go down and demand our fundamental rights. I will not set myself on fire. If the security forces want to set me on fire, let them do it!”
On a final note, what a difference a couple of weeks makes. When I was last here in Cairo, there were all kinds of signs of revolutionary mayhem around town, including burned up cars, a mostly deserted downtown and guys armed with machetes and firearms manning homemade roadblocks at night. But the drive from the airport into town today was like a different city. Shops were open, streets cleaned up, lots of traffic (auto and pedestrian) and, besides some graffiti and tanks here and there, things really looked like they’re getting back to normal. Or new normal, maybe.