Today’s events in Egypt have left me emotionally exhausted. “Why?” my brother asks. Good question. Why did I rush from elation, to anger, to anxiety over events in a country that I don’t really have any personal connection to, nor will have a direct effect on me? (So I hope). Here’s why:
1) It was a surprise: Several times I watched a former US Ambassadors to Egypt (Nick Veliotes) and another State Department official say they were “surprised” by today’s events. That’s disappointing at best. More importantly, it is completely unacceptable. There’s no such thing as a surprise – and most certainly not at the magnitude that we’re seeing in Egypt today. There were several thousand Egyptians on the street today. Wasn’t anyone at the embassy or the State Department talking to them?
2) We’re deeply concerned: White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs whimpered that the Obama administration is “deeply concerned” about “the images and the events we see in Egypt today.” Lucky, though, they’re “monitoring a very fluid situation.” I’m a spokesperson and appreciate the utter anxiety and stress of standing in front of a gaggle of reporters. So trust me when I say: don’t do it if you don’t have clear instructions. It was evident that the White House didn’t know what to do. They choked. That’s not only embarrassing, it’s not fair. The Egyptians deserve better than that – especially since its Washington that has turned a blind eye to Mubarak’s authoritarianism for decades.
3) I feel your pain: That the Egyptian president “is concerned for the poor,” and that he’ll “always be on the side of the poor.” Spare me. The poor aren’t stupid – they’re poor. As someone who works on development issues it’s infuriating to hear such patronizing palaver – not because it’s thoughtless but because it has no regard or respect for people who have nothing else.
4) Power to the people: Seeing people stand up for themselves is empowering. It appeals to our idealism that we can make a better world. Let us hope that’s how it turns out for the long oppressed Egyptians. And how it turns out for them gives me much to worry about. Mubarak’s only credible challenger isn’t former IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei, it’s the Muslim Brotherhood, a fervently Islamist party.
Say what? According to Egyptian election laws, ElBaradei can’t stand as a candidate for anything. He doesn’t head a political party represented in Egypt’s parliament. Unless he masters political jujitsu, ElBaradei can only appeal to our Western romanticism, which will likely wane when things get really hard in Egypt. And, I suspect, things will get really hard. Thinking about alone gets my blood pressure going, because when things get really hard, we, not just Washington or faceless bureaucrats but all of us, look away.