Two weeks ago not one in a thousand Americans could have found Tunisia on a map.
Most still can’t.
And I will bet you even money that if you ask the ten people nearest you right now who the recently ousted Tunisian evil dictator was, you’ll get nine answers that are the equivalent of “uh, um, I dunno” and one guy who fakes a heart attack to get out of answering.
But today, they’re cheering for democracy in Tunisia.
Two weeks ago not one in a hundred Americans could have found Egypt on a map without help from Google.
Most still can’t.
And if you’d have asked most Americans who Egypt’s Grand Pananjurum (King? Sheik? Prime Minister? Or is it President?) was last Monday, most of them couldn’t have identified Hosni Mubarak if his name was spelled out on their palm in magic marker.
There are damned few Americans who used the word “Egypt” in the last year (prior to this week anyway), and damned few outside the state department or the Egyptian expat community who’ve given Egypt a second thought in the same period. Or in the last two years. Or three. Or thirty. I don’t recall Egyptian democracy being a big topic during the last election cycle. Did the President mention it during the State of the Union address? Did the Republicans bring up Egypt during the Rebuttal and I just missed it?
In fact, I had to go back nearly ten years to find “Egypt” mentioned above the fold on the front page of any major newspaper in the US.
Frankly, damned few Americans could give two shits about Egypt.
Prior to this week anyway.
But now? What do we want? We want Whathisname-the-Evil-Pananjurum (King? Dictator? Sheik? Prime Minister? President?) out! When do we want it? We want it now! Oh yes, Whathisname has got to go, hey hey ho ho! Freeeeedom!
Suddenly, democracy in Egypt is a big deal. To Americans.
Last week we were worried about our precious tax dollars being squandered on abortion for liberal welfare cheats.
The week before that we wanted the government out of our healthcare, by God!
The week before that it was jobs.
And the Week before that it was the debt, and the deficit, and China, and 2nd Amendment rights!
But, all that pales when it comes to our burning desire for Egyptian democracy.
Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak became President of Egypt in 1981. I remember the day. I remember watching him on the news. He was sworn into office on October 14, 1981, to be precise, but he really assumed power on the 6th – it was kind of a big day. Lots of noise and hoopla. Now, that’s about thirty years in power, for those of you not good with the math. Thirty years. And in all that time, I can recall damned few Americans getting spun up over “democracy” in Egypt. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a bunch of Tea Party types waving “Free Egypt!” signs. Or a bunch of liberal students marching on the Berkley campus demanding free elections in Egypt. Near as I can figure, the closest most Americans have gotten to thinking about Egypt in the last two decades was watching Brandon Frasier and Rachel Weisz battle the evil undead during the first two installments of The Mummy (frankly, I don’t remember who Frasier and the replacement chick fought in the third one, was it flying monkeys maybe?).
And the reason Americans don’t give a shit about Egypt has a lot to do with Hosni Mubarak.
Used to be we thought about Egypt a lot. When I was growing up, Egypt appeared above the fold all the time.
See, prior to Mubarak there was Anwar Sadat. You may have heard of him, he got blown up in a grenade attack and then shot – along with about thirty others, including the country’s Vice President, Hosni Murbarak – by his own troops on October 6th, 1981, during a parade celebrating the Egyptian Army’s crossing of the Suez and invasion of the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War. Sadat was hated by a lot of Egyptians, including his own army and a lot of other people in the Muslim world – in fact, three former American presidents showed up for his funeral (Ford, Carter, and Nixon) but only one Arab leader – because first he got his ass handed to him by the hated Israelis and then he went and made peace with them. Everybody in the world was awestruck by those pictures of Carter and Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David, well, everybody except for the shamed and defeated Egyptian Army and the Pan Arab Nationalists that is. While the peace treaty was generally popular in Egypt, it resulted in that country’s expulsion from the Arab League who saw peace with Israel as a betrayal and pandering to the Zionists and to Evangelical Christians (and in fact, Pat Robertson gave Sadat the Prince of Peace award, which, you know, really helped his image in the Arab world). His government was a corrupt mess. During the last decade of his presidency, Egypt was in constant turmoil with rampant rioting and unrest. Sadat’s attempt to implement the so-called Free Market in Egypt resulted in the 1977 Bread Riots after he lifted price controls and government regulation. Revolution was the watch word, and in fact it was revolution by the parents of the current batch of revolutionaries who swept Mubarak to power in the chaotic days after Sadat’s assassination at the hands of an enraged Army Officer and his troops.
Before Sadat, it was Gamal Abdul Nasser Hussein, the great pan-Arab nationalist and hero. I once spent a couple of years sitting off the coast of North Africa, much of it north of the Libyan/Egyptian border city of Gamal Abdul Nasser. Nasser was a big deal, hell, half the kids in the Middle East are named after him, including one of Mubarak’s own. He raised a lot of hell and scared the shit out of the West and the United States on more than one occasion – people got all sweaty about Saddam’s ambition and Ba’athist talk of unified Arab States? Saddam was a pissant compared to Nasser – and in point of fact, worldwide Arab Nationalism all during the 50’s and 60’s was called Nasserism and Saddam’s Ba’ath Party was a direct descendent of that movement. And if Muslim military forces hadn’t gotten soundly trounced by the Israelis during the Six Day War, today you might be buying your oil from the United Arab States of Nasser.
Before Nasser, it was Muhamad Naguib, who (along with Gamal Nasser) led the 1953 Egyptian Revolution against his predecessor, the Sultan, King Farouk and the ruling Muhammad Ali Dynasty (Muhammad Ali? Where have I heard that name before?). Naguib didn’t last long, Nasser got sick of sharing power with him and had him locked up for the next two decades until he was freed by Sadat. Before the kings and the Sultans it was the British and before them it was the Ottomans and before them it was the Romans and before them it was the Pharaohs and nobody gives a crap who it was before that.
If you’ve been paying attention, you might notice something, to wit: the longest period of peace and stability in Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs has been this last thirty years under the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
Big deal, Mubarak is an asshole. We want him out and democracy in!
Yeah, yeah, I hear you.
Couple of things you might have missed though:
First, I waited to write this piece for a reason. What could that be? Well in a word, stones. Sticks and stones actually. See, a whole lot of very naïve folks seemed to think there was going to be some kind of peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy. This delusion baffles me. Peaceful transition? Egypt has never had a peaceful transition of power. Ever. And by ever, I mean all the way back to the Pharaohs. And I am hard pressed finding even single example of a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy anywhere, including our own history here in the US. And sure enough, this morning the protests turned violent. Today it’s stones and Molotov cocktails and shots in the air. Tomorrow, the next day, the bullets won’t be into the air- and hell, they aren’t already. Buildings are burning and the looting has started and the revolution is in full swing. Hamas, Al Qaida, and those who thrive on war and terror and revolution won’t be far behind. The kids rioting in the streets don’t have leaders, they are a mob, somebody will move to fill that vacuum, watch and see if they don’t. The army swore to stay out of it, they’ll never be able to live up to that promise.
I’ve heard and read dozens of interviews with the rioters. You can’t call them revolutionaries, not yet anyway. Revolutionaries have a plan, a goal, leaders. These people are rabble. The interview I heard this morning on NPR is a perfect example: Question: What do you want? Answer: We don’t know, we just want Mubarak out. Right. Create a power vacuum in the Middle East, see if democracy fills it. Good luck, don’t forget your galoshes, because you’re about to be up to your neck in shit.
Here’s a funny thought, a whole lot of the Americans clamoring for democracy and freedom in Egypt right now are the exact same folks who thought Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship was a fine, fine place to conduct “enhanced interrogation” precisely because it wasn’t a democracy. An outbreak of freedom there is going to put a real crimp in the old Rendition program now isn’t it? Looks like we’ll have to send detainees to Bulgaria and Jordan instead. But I digress.
But here’s the real kicker:
How much is democracy in Egypt worth to you? $4? $5? $6? Because that’s where the price for a gallon of gasoline is headed. Go check the pumps, it’s up ten cents already and climbing fast. Oil last week was about $75 a barrel, today it’s over $100 and soaring. Suez canal, you know. Runs through Egypt, past Cairo. Or did you forget about that? And a rather large percentage of Middle Eastern Oil bound for Europe and the US passes through that channel. The Commodities Market is in full blown panic and the oil companies are busy fanning the flames despite the fact that there has been absolutely no disruption of supply. Yet. What? Why would oil companies stir up panic? Because it’s nothing but pure profit, that’s why, and that’s how it’s done. And it’s not just Exxon and BP, it’s Wall Street too. Sound paranoid? Sound crazy? Sound like something Glenn Beck would say? Let me draw it out for you: the huge jump in oil stocks this morning allowed BP to project a profit for their shareholders for the first time since the Deep Water Horizon explosion – this is a direct result of the revolution in Egypt. The more of Egypt that burns, and the longer it takes, the better for the oil industry and the worse for you. None of the industry’s equipment or supply is in Egypt. They lose nothing, and gain everything.
Now, consider this: The US Midwest and the East Coast are in the grip of one of the worst winters on record and as of this morning Texas has resorted to rolling blackouts because of dramatically increased power consumption due to the cold weather – what do you think is going to happen to the price of heating oil? Followed by the price at the pump? Followed by your electric bill? Or didn’t you think that far? It’s not just Egypt – that’s just icing on the cake. Industry analysts started talking about $5 dollars per gallon of gas a month ago – and that, my friends, is a dirty trick, a market manipulation and a self fulfilling prophecy. Oil Execs engage in it all the time. It’s a standard tactic. Talk about price increases, just hinting at a price increase from some obscure industry expert, and the market reacts and prices increase. Understand, the physical cost of getting the oil out of the ground, shipping it, and refining it doesn’t increase, what increases is the price of oil shares on the market and that is how money is made right out of thin air – throw in a refinery malfunction or a pipeline failure or a convenient revolution on top of the Suez Canal and see what happens. The $5 dollar a gallon talk started because the oil companies were pissed about the Fed’s moratorium on deep water and coastal drilling. Then winter and revolution happened. Happy days. For investors.
Then there’s Israel.
Israel and Egypt have been at peace for nearly 40 years, since that day Sadat and Begin and Carter all shook hands in the Rose Garden and earned themselves the Nobel Peace Prize. Whether or not a new revolutionary government in Egypt, one padded with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the fiery passions of Islamic revolutionaries, chooses to honor that peace remains to be seen. Peace, war, or something in between, it’ll be a while – maybe even years – before we know for sure.
Think the oil market is soaring now? Let there be even a whisper of conflict between the new powers in Egypt and Israel – or even continuing and sustained uncertainty – and see what happens to the price of oil.
Two weeks ago, not one in a hundred Americans could have found Egypt on a map.
Maybe one in a thousand could have named Egypt’s president – after all, he’s never been on Dancing With the Stars.
Today, they demand revolution.
You want Mubarak gone?
You love the sound of revolution in Egypt? In Tunisia? And the rumbling of it in Jordan and Yeman?
How much is it worth to you?
It’s one thing to call for revolution in Middle East without personal consequence to yourself, but I’m wondering how long this righteous fire will last once the bill comes due.