What do I know about Egypt? Nothing, really. Or not nearly as much as I thought I did. Take the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance. I thought they were roughly analogous to the Taliban. The Taliban in Afghanistan could be said to have grown out of the movement that largely started with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but it appears that the Muslim Brotherhood is really serious about not achieving its goals by force. Otherwise I would expect there to be a lot more blood in the streets of Cairo at this point.
Not unlike the blood in the streets of Paris in 1793. Sure, the French have a nice little republic these days, but their “transition to democracy” was not nearly so smooth as America’s. Most are not. That is really the remarkable thing about the United States, that here you had a revolution which claimed to be “of the people” (or at least the white, landowning, male people but we’ve gotten somewhat better) that did not devolve into chaos. For most of history, our story has been the exception rather than the rule.
And one could reasonably assume that the rule would hold in a place where the people have been mightily oppressed for way too long. A place like, hum, Egypt? It would have been easy to imagine a scenario in which one or two populist leaders co-opted the pent up frustrations of the people and seized power, swapping one dictatorial regime for another. Such imaginings (my imaginings) underestimate the Egyptian people as much as they misunderstand groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
That Egypt is more nuanced than it first appears should come as no surprise. This is the country that provided refuge to Joseph’s brothers and father, Jacob, in a time of great famine. Another Joseph brought his wife, Mary, and their young son to Egypt when a despot threatened his life. The great mysteries of Christianity were nurtured in the deserts of Egypt. All of this being coincidental to the kingdom of the Pharaohs, of course.
Which is not to say that Egyptians know what they are doing any better than the rest of us know what we are doing. But they do know what they have got. In addition to the Nile and the Suez, they have oil and gas. In addition to the Pyramids and the Sphinx, they have Luxor, and Karnak. From Persia and India and Phonecia and Rome and Athens they came to Egypt. The Egyptians themselves are the custodians of this legacy. It is time they were allowed to act as such.