From a strictly selfish standpoint, I’m glad I’ve already seen the pyramids.
If you have a desire to see them, other than in pictures, you’d better go soon. In all likelihood, it won’t
be long until a vacation in Cairo becomes akin to holidaying in Tehran or Baghdad. In the 21st century, travelling to the Middle
East will be the equivalent of a
“holiday in Cambodia,” as the Dead Kennedys famously sang back in the quaint Cold War era.
Many Westerners have made the mistake of projecting their own values and wishful thinking upon the dramatic events taking place across the Middle East.
TV reports show protesters waving placards reading “Freedom” and “Democracy,” and Westerners — understandably enough — think they mean freedom and democracy. But those words can be, and are, interpreted much differently in, say, a living room in Twillingate and in the heat of Tahrir Square.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project released a report in January. In the spring of 2010, the Pew Research Centre of Washington, D.C., conducted a poll of Muslims in seven countries in which a majority of the population is Islamic. One of the countries was Egypt.
Here is a finding worth pondering: 85 per cent of Egyptians think Islam is “a positive rather than negative influence in politics.”
Only two per cent of Egyptians think Islam’s influence in politics is more negative than positive.
This is obviously at extreme odds with the established Western notion that church and state should remain separate. (Yes, yes, I know the Queen is the head of the Anglican Church as well as the titular head of state, but the last time we looked, Lizzy hadn’t sent suicide bombers on missions to foreign countries.)
The Pew project seemingly reveals Egyptians are blithely unaware that Islam’s heavy involvement in politics is one of the world’s main problems at the moment.
Democracy has a serious internal paradox: what if a fair and free election is held, but is won by a bunch of murderous totalitarians?
If Egyptians are lucky, the Muslim Brotherhood will be held in check by a secular military (similar to the situation in Turkey). If Egyptians are unlucky, a Muslim Brotherhood victory will be negated by a military coup, leading to ongoing violence (as in Algeria). If Egyptians are really unlucky, the Muslim Brotherhood will prevail, and the country will get its wished for Islamic involvement in politics (as in Iran).
Some other statistics discovered by the Pew Global Attitudes Project: 82 per cent of Egyptians favour “stoning people who commit adultery,” and 84 per cent favour the “death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion.”
The liberal democracy supposedly unfolding on our TV screens is probably a cruel illusion.
Sending a message
If statistics are unconvincing, as they often are, anecdotes can be enlightening.
There’s one that stands out as a probable harbinger of things to come in Egypt.
On Feb. 11 in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, protesters gathered to celebrate the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. In the tumultuous jubilation, CBS reporter Lara Logan — who just happens to be blond, beautiful and extremely white — became separated from her crew.
Some celebrants surrounded her. They could have taken the opportunity to send their message of freedom and democracy to millions of Westerners.
They could have said, “Tell your viewers we support equal rights for women.” They could have said, “Tell the West we want freedom of religion in Egypt.” They could have, but they didn’t. Instead, they gang-raped her.
I usually deplore clichés, but there are some worth pondering while we watch the revolts roiling the Middle East. Be careful what you wish for. No matter how bad things get, they can always get worse.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.