By Franklin Lamb
This observer spent a good part of Christmas Eve divided between two main Cairo Squares, Tahrir and Abassiya, while waiting for a Visa from the Libyan Embassy.
A tale of two Squares and two Movements
Alexandria, 415 or 416
In the year 415 or 416, on the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, a band of Christian monks seized Hypatia, one of the last great thinkers of ancient Alexandria, beat her, and dragged her body to a church where they mutilated her flesh with sharp tiles and burned her remains. Read more.
Cairo in year 2011
It is evident here that the "blue bra girl" or "Tahrir Woman” whose assault by the Egyptian army has brought intense wrath upon the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and similar attacks are much on the minds of protestors in both Squares. But in Abassiya Sq. the participants focus more on the provocative demonstrators in Tahrir Sq. many of whom they claim are baltagiy (hoods or thugs). Tahrir Square demonstrators feel about the same way regarding the pro- SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) demonstrators over in Tahrir Square.
In Abbasiya Square close to Noor Mosque, the attitudes and trappings are in opposition to what has been happening in Tahrir Square. Same souvenirs, candy, caps with the Egyptian flag on them, T-shirts, face painting, but with a different political message.
At Tahrir Square, visitors are lectured about the current protests focusing on “Reclaiming Honor” and condemning the military for violence against protestors while chanting slogans such as “Egypt’s women are a red line.” Referring to women who have been beaten by the military including the “blue bra lady” demonstrators encourage each other with chants like, “Raise you head high, you’re more honorable than the one who stomped you.” Last week’s violence at Tahrir Sq. left 17 dead and more than 900 injured and justice is demanded.
The ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has since apologized to Egypt's women for the infamous incident, but it has also stepped up a campaign to portray the demonstrators as vandals).
At Abassiya Sq. slogans about the dignity of women and the value of martyrs tend include the not very subtle message that those Egyptians demonstrating in Tahrir Sq. are paid to be there and most are unpatriotic and influenced by foreign elements. Is there are country in this region that has experienced an uprising where we have not heard essentially these same messages?
What I found interesting as I arrived at the Cairo Airport was the huge bill board (s) proclaiming: “American young people need to grow up more like Egyptian youngsters.” At the end of the quote is the signature Barack Obama. I have no idea if it’s an accurate quote from Obama’s June 2009 speech at Cairo University but some here seem to think it is and they ask about it.
But even more intriguing , and quite surprising, are the number of young and older demonstrating Egyptians who are very knowledgeable about current American politics and even quite arcane details of US Middle East policy. And their keen interest to discuss this subject even with the maelstrom swirling around this city of 25 million increasingly stressed citizens.
Maybe in the spirit of the holidays the current crop of Republican candidates could be forgiven for trying out various stump speeches on their audiences. But not according to Egyptians I spoke with at both Cairo main Squares now that the campaign for US president is up and running.
The near unanimous opinions I heard included the insistence that the messages of US candidates for President as they tour Iowa and New Hampshire need to be rejected by American voters for the good of the USA.
One student told me, “They are reaching new lows—and that is truly low–in American political discourse.” Before I could explain that I found Egyptian politics these days much more interesting than American politics, one young lady blurted out, “But Michele Bachman, who rival Ron Paul tells us simply hates Muslims told one Iowa audience hpw that that she is qualified to be President because of her grasp of foreign affairs and that being on the House Intelligence Committee, “I get the same intelligence briefings that President Obama does.”
Is that true?” She asked. Before I could utter a syllable, the same female student continued, “Not only is that not accurate what she claimed about getting the same intelligence briefings as the US President but Michele then announced that as President she would close the American Embassy in Tehran, apparently unaware that President Carter did that 32 years ago. How can these candidate be so ignorant and still run for our Presidency?”
Then someone asked why Mitt Romney is assuring audiences in America and presumably Tel Aviv that his first trip as President will be to go to Israel.
Next I received a quick mini-lecture on the subject of, “and not to be outdone in groveling to Israel and ignoring American interests, former history teacher Newt Gingrich informs the world the Palestinians are an invented people while Rick Perry sees no difference between what Israel wants and what’s best for America. How is it possible they can say such things and run for President?”
Stunned, I am dazzled by how well informed these students are. In fact, reports just in from Iowa and New Hampshire (12.24.11) suggest that this wannabe Republican nominee quartet, among other candidates this year, believe the issue they have been pushing may be pure electoral gold: the fear which they believe American voters have of Islamic Terrorism.
Nervous about losing Israel-lobby cash, given their inclination to take the Bush and Obama administrations assault on civil liberties even further than attorney generals Ashcroft, Gonzales, and now Holder have done, the right wing Republicans are touring the early primary states vilifying, by innuendo, Arabs, Muslims and Islam itself—not to mention Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Hamas.
Claiming that "the Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us," the quartet tells their two audiences (the one in front of them and much more importantly, the one at the AIPAC HQ in Washington, the latter supplying virtually all the Presidential candidates with reams of position papers on Hezbollah, Iran, Hamas, terrorism etc. and busy raising what they claim will be the most money every distributed in the history of the United States by the Israel lobby for a presidential election) that, as candidate Bachman likes to assure her audiences, "This war of terror ends when they stop coming here to kill us! Never, ever again must we be caught with our guard down.”
All the current Presidential candidates insist that American support for Israel with endless special arms programs and evermore cash and green lighting crimes against Palestine has nothing to do with the fact that the US is being driven out of the Middle East and that the American government has never been held in lower repute.
Mitt Romney claimed to speak for all the current White House aspirants when he said Arabs and Muslims have no hard feelings from the nearly one million deaths the Bush-Obama administrations have needlessly caused with their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and support for Israel's fifth aggression against Lebanon, while urging a sixth. At the same time the Obama administrations violates international law weekly by impliedly threatening Iran with a nuclear attack in violation of Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter with its “all options are on the table! hysteria.
Egyptian students ask: “Do these same candidates expect American voters not to be concerned about the projected two trillion dollars of US taxpayer money wasted — money that every one of your countries 435 congressional districts needs for education, medical care, repairs to your deteriorating infrastructure, and myriad other urgent needs?
Egyptians in Tahriri and Abasssiya Squares have a better grasp of American politics and many of us have.
The precise authenticity of Barack Obama’s quote on the huge billboards at Cairo International airport is not sure. But the insights and wisdom of the Egyptians protecting at both Tahrir and Abbassiya Squares this season are most impressive and worth heeding as American go to the polls to vote in the coming months.