Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Western Thoughts on an Egyptian Revolution...or Don't Call Me a Coup

There seems to be some debate about the ouster of now former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Is it a coup? Is it a revolution?

The feeling from friends of mine in Egypt is that this is not a coup, but a continuation of the revolution. In fact, they are in vehement opposition to the word coup and have great disdain for any mention of the military taking over on any kind of permanent basis.

Having lived in Cairo for close to two years, I was asked my thoughts. So here they are:

Personally, I think a few things come into play here.

First, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) definitely took advantage of a vacuum in leadership when they won the election. Many voted for Morsi as the lesser of two evils, the other candidate being associated with the Mubarak regime. And many abstained from voting as their way of showing their support for someone other than the MB figurehead or a Mubarak man (even if that someone didn't exist). To give the MB credit, they were already a well established political force prior to Mubarak's fall, gaining the support of many through their charitable works, offering of assistance to the poor, performing of public works, and really living up to many of the social ideals of Islam. It has been said that they did prey upon the more unfortunate members of the voting public by offering things like cooking oil as an incentive to come out and vote for Morsi. The MB knew how to mobilize the voters and won the election as a result. In a country as unorganized as Egypt, the MB was the shining example of organization and order and moved right in and filled the vacuum. I remember when I was having dinner in Salalah, Oman two years ago, one of the members of the dinner party was an Egyptian that used to fly back and forth between Oman and Cairo for the protests. He commented to me that Mohamed ElBaradei (the newly appointed Vice President in Egypt), who was the hoped-for president of many, came a generation to early. He clarified this by saying that the revolution was happening without a strong leader to stand up and lead it to a productive end. He worried that the MB would seize power and turn Egypt into another Iran. In his mind, ElBaradei was not willing or able to be that leader due to opposition against him. That lack of a revolutionary leader is what allowed the MB to move into power with relative ease.

Second, the MB has the stated goal of creating a worldwide Islamic Republic. Their charter basically (paraphrased) states that Islam starts with the individual, moves to the family, then to the community, then to the country, then to the nation (larger area than just the country), to the new Caliphate, to worldwide Islamic rule. Egypt was supposed to be their charter country and their leadership of Egypt was concerned less with Egyptians (ask any Coptic about this - many of whom have fled including close friends of mine who are struggling to get by in their new Chicago home), and more concerned with the institution of Sharia and Islamic principals. Most of the principals of the revolution, including equality, religious tolerance, women's right, free speech, the end of unlawful search, seizure, and imprisonment, among others, were pretty well thrown out by the MB. The final straw, I believe, was when the Egyptian equivalent of Jon Stewart from the Daily Show, Bassem Youssef, was arrested for insulting the Egyptian Government, the President, and Islam (according to Morsi and the MB). Imagine Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert being jailed for what they say on their respective shows and you have what happened in Egypt. I think this is what truly showed Egyptians that they were living under the heavy handle of Islamist rule, and moving further and further away from the promise of the revolution.

Third, many Egyptians thought that the overthrow of Mubarak was the end of the revolution, not the beginning of a long and likely bloody march toward democracy. As Thomas Jefferson said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."  The Egyptian liberty was a sapling with shallow roots, but many thought it was ready to bear fruit and that Cairo would wake up the next morning with all the wealth and opportunity of the West. An Egyptian friend of mine, currently on a very slow recovery from a tragic car accident (insert prayer request here), mentioned that many were basically sitting around after Mubarak's fall waiting to become rich. And I have no doubt,
knowing many in Egypt and their relative ignorance about what life can really be like in the West, that many Egyptians thought that Mubarak was keeping vast sums of money, jobs, benefits, and opportunities behind some secret door. With him gone, all that goodness would flood into the streets and everyone would have a high paying job, expendable cash, a Mercedes, and their own apartment just as soon as the key to that non-existent door was found. What the presidency of Morsi and the MB showed many in Egypt is that the process is in its infancy and will require years, if not decades, of blood, sweat, and tears.

Finally, I might be naive in saying this, but I think the Army actually has the interests of Egypt at heart. I think the speed in which they are moving with their political roadmap, the throwing out much of what the MB put into place as far as processes and constitutions go (that constitution that passed by 60%, but was voted on by something like only 25% of the representatives due to abstaining and disagreement, largely due to the very heavy Islamist/Sharia bent), the appointment of a new Prime Minister and Vice President (finally getting ElBaradei to be approved despite the opposition of the Islamist Noor party), and the (hopefully not empty) promise of bringing all sides to the table of the political process (including the MB) point to this. Serving in the Egyptian Army is non-volunteer requirement of every Egyptian male (excluding, of course, those who are rich or well-connected enough to get out of the requirement). Many in the Army echo the feelings of the revolution and hopefully this carries forward in the promise of the political road map.

As it stands, I think the Army tried to force Morsi's hand, but truly there was no hand for Morsi to play. For Morsi to have changed and worked with the protestors would've meant the Muslim Brotherhood changing. Make no mistake; Morsi was their mouthpiece and figurehead, there to advance the agenda of the MB in their march toward a new caliphate. The MB is not a new or minor party, but an organized, determined, and experienced group of Islamists that sees nothing less than the establishment of worldwide Islam as it's mission, purpose, and goal. The Egyptian people realized this, and the Army backed the millions of protestors. I don't know if this is as much a coup as it is a military/revolutionary impeachment.

That this ouster of Morsi happened on the dawn of a new Ramadan holiday is hopefully a portend of good things to come. Ramadan is the month of reconciliation, relieving of debts, renewing family ties, and pledging oneself to a new commitment of goodwill and peace. It is the month of coming together to work out problems and differences so that the next period is one of well being and cooperation. I hope that holds true for Egypt. Because if it doesn't, I'm afraid that the debate between coup and revolution will get lost in a bloody Civil War and possibly plunge the Middle East into a large scale regional conflict running from Turkey, through Syria, into Lebanon and Jordan, and ending in Egypt. With Israel stuck in the middle...And we all know the one thing that the majority of those countries can agree on  - their dislike/disdain of Israel.

Those are the thoughts off the top of my head.


Monday, February 13, 2012

God, Debt, and Sex - Running Through My Brain

I am often asked the question, “What are you thinking about?”

I usually say “Nothing,” but that’s not true.

Mostly I think about God. Honestly, God runs through my head almost incessantly.

The other things I think about in pretty equal measure are 1.) Debt, bills, how in the hell are we gonna pay our rent this month? and 2.) Sex, porn, how nice that girl’s ass is.

I would willingly say “God” if I hadn’t discovered the fact that most people are turned off by God or want to get into some woo-woo talk about crystals, airy-fairyness, or accepting Jesus as your personal savior.

And I’m sure as hell not going to tell someone, “Well I was just thinking about how nice your tits look in that shirt, and if I wasn’t married I’d think about wanting to fuck you, but since I’m married, I’ll probably just file your tits away in my mental rolodex and use them when I’m jerking off in the shower.”  P.S. – I love my wife, we have an amazing sex life, but I’m a Scorpio and as much as I’ve tried to go without jerking off or thinking about sex during one of the barren sex spells my wife and I have had, it only creates more sex on the brain. (And just so you know, if you’re not married, make sure your relationship has more going for it than the raucous sex, because for the majority of married couples, it will taper off and the 3 times a day sex you think will last for years, won’t. And if all you have is sex, when it’s far less frequent, you’ll wonder where the love went and why you are married to this person.)

On a side note – Guys, be careful of wanting to marry your first regular pussy.  It’s easy to look past incompatibly when you’re getting some, especially if it’s the first time you’ve had it.  Beware the first regular pussy.  You’ve been warned.

And when it comes to debt and bills, and the inherent stress of making enough money to barely make ends meet? I tend to not talk to other people about my problems or concerns, even with my wife.  I am hoping to change this, not to become one of those people that immediately launches into every issue they’ve ever had and just how shitty their life is (I was just making small talk in the supermarket line, didn’t realize I had a “Free Therapy” sticker on my forehead).  But I want to be able at least to discuss my stresses, my fears, my problems and work towards the remedy.  I think for so long I have been afraid of being looked at as a failure, that if I discussed my problems, I would receive that validation and confirmation, and so, instead, I run the stress and struggle in circles around the safety of my own head, fulfilling my view that I am a failure – even though I know that I am not and that is just some bullshit mechanism that my own psyche and ego plays to perpetuate it’s own sad story.

So I usually just say “Nothing.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Quitting Smoking - Heaven Help Me

I started smoking when I was 18 years old.  The funny thing is that until I actually started, I was always one of those people that thought there was no way in hell I would ever be a smoker.  Well, 17 years and unwilling-to-figure-out-just-how-much-I've-spent-on-smokes later, it is time to stop. Really this time.

I've tried half-heartedly to quit before.  "I'm gonna do it this time." "I'll feel so good." "I can already feel my lungs clearing out." And a day-and-half later, I'm come up with some not-so-good reason to start again.  It's amazing how the mind can rationalize the continuation of a habit that really has little benefit outside of the fact that it feels fucking good.

That's the thing about smoking. I love it. I love the first drag in the morning.  I love a cup of coffee and a smoke. I reeaaaallllyyyy loved a smoke (or pack of) when I was drinking (I rarely drink anymore so that's not gonna be an issue). I love a smoke after sex. I love a smoke with my wife outside on a nice night talking about life and God and love. I love a smoke with friends. I fucking love smoking and I have never apologized for that.

But, like that old friend that you love hanging out but know is a bad influence, sometimes you outgrow something you love and it is time to move on.

So it is the case with my smoking.  I love you, old friend.  But it's time for me to move on.

Heaven help me. Fuck.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Crazy Childhood Fears - Nuclear Annihilation?

It seems like most kids have a fear of the dark, or maybe ghosts, possibly their parents or a creepy uncle or old relative. Maybe they’re afraid of dogs, or swimming, or spiders. Not me! My childhood fear was dying in a nuclear holocaust.

Now this wasn’t just some “I’m so scared of nuclear weapons, I don’t want to die, but I do want to eat only the middle out of the Oreos and wear my Luke Skywalker mask to the grocery store” weirdness. This was deep, ingrained fear that I actually thought about and contemplated in my five year old mind. I would lay in bed imagining a blinding light coming from over the horizon and wiping everything out. I would think about Mutually Assured Destruction, the term for what would happen if the Americans and the Soviets ever let loose their nuclear arsenals pretty much destroying everything (and probably the one thing that actually kept the Cold War at a stalemate).

I grew up a military brat, my father an officer, and I would pay attention. I would hear talk about the Soviets, about the Cold War, about nukes. And I took it heart. I imagined it happening. I had a deep and abiding fear that my life would end early and the world would no longer go on.

I guess that’s the thing, kids pay attention. They pay attention to what we say, what we talk about, what we discuss, for better or worse. They listen to our biases, they pick up on our conditioning, they assimilate our fears. Obviously, nuclear annihilation was a serious concern during the Cold War (my youth was spent toward the end of that ongoing conflict), at least serious enough around my house that it was the greatest fear I had growing up.

I just hope that, as my fear of youthful annihilation at the hands of an Atom Bomb did not come true, I did not tap into some prophetic future. Because man, when I would see it happening, it was fucking real. And it fucking sucked.

Crazy childhood fears…did any of you have any crazy ones?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Slavery and Freedom

The slave is the one who thinks he is free; the free man is the one who knows he has been a slave.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Love and Marriage - Still Talking After This Many Years

"Woop, woop, woop..." was the call.

"Weep, wip, woop, woop..." was the reply.

My wife and I were sitting on the back porch of our townhouse just outside of Seattle, Washington, USA smoking cigarettes when I started making strange wooping noises.  She responded with her own woops and wips.  "I gotta tell you, I'm grateful that after this many years of marriage (close to six) that we can still talk shit," I said.  "Me, too," she said in return.  And then we burst out laughing.

I was reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, by Chuck Klosterman and he was talking about the ideals of relationships and love that we get from the media (every girl's in love with John Cusack, but in reality are only in love with Lloyd Dobler, Cusack's character in Say Anything). He went on to discuss that so many people fall in love with the ideals of a relationship or an individual as they see them in Romantic Comedies and on TV, only to realize down the road that they no longer love the person they're in the relationship with when they run out of things to talk about (John Cusack is not really Lloyd Dobler, and worse he's boring and you have nothing in common).

My wife and I don't have that problem.  We discuss books, popular culture, spirituality, friends, events that happened in our daily lives, etc., etc..  This is easy for us because we actually enjoy each others company.  Even if that means that our conversations might sometimes be nothing more than woop-woops and wip-wips.

I think the reason for this is our relationship wasn't built on ideals of who we hoped the other would be, and we held no fantasies. We become close friends in insane travel conditions in a Middle Eastern country where we were truly authentic and saw the best of each other (passion for life, love of our fellow man) and the worst (taking dumps in the private bathroom inside our shared hostel room where the "door" was actually a vinyl shower curtain that did little to cover the opening, getting wasted on New Year's and being a dick).  We were who we were, and are who we are and that's what we fell in love with.

We love each other for that ideal, the ideal of who are, not who we want the other to be.

And we talk about it.  Even if that sometimes comes out as woop, woop, wip, wip.
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Much Cheese - Life and Times in the Age of Consumerism

When my wife and I returned from Egypt, we had a bit of culture shock.  We had just come from a country where there were three types of cheese – one was the type of cheese that tourists paid exorbitant sums for, another was the type of cheese that foreigners who lived in Egypt paid realistic prices for, and the last was the type of cheese that Egyptians paid Egyptian prices for.  All were soft and white and tasted exactly the same.  We had walked into a supermarket upon returning to the States and almost had a heart attack at the amount of food choices available to us.  I went down the cheese aisle and suffered a mild anxiety attack.  This was a whole aisle of cheese! Block cheese, shredded cheese, sliced cheese, with pimientos, or jalapenos, yellow, white, sharp, medium, mild, aged, crumbled…I was there to buy cheese but I couldn’t wrap my head around how much fucking cheese there was and had a mini breakdown.

So I did the only thing I could – I hightailed it out of the store, stopping only when I reached my car to light a cigarette and calm my nerves.

“Good lord,” I said to my wife, who was looking as ashen and panic stricken as me, “how much cheese does one man truly need?”