Cartouche's Blog

Writing My Way Out of Something


Someplace, somewhere else, USA
February 09
Mind My Own Business
Artist, former newspaper columnist and restaurant critic. Award-winning author of "In Pursuit of Excellence". In my spare minute I can be found blogging here, on Huffington Post and other places that don't pay and (more often) writing for some places that do. Occasionally I tweet random thoughts and observations as @nonconfromist. I keep the really good ones to myself.


Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 28, 2011 6:53AM

Egypt is Rising

Rate: 69 Flag

I was a naïve young woman when I arrived in Cairo in June of 1983.  Of course, there was no telling my then 23 year-old self that.  I was already somewhat worldly and had just left communist Hungary to go on this little adventure with complete strangers.  I was invited as a guest of the Egyptian government and was going to see the great pyramids!

I got on a plane with a decorated general, an Egyptian Jewish refugee who had not seen his country since being forced to flee to Italy (and subsequently ended up in Hungary) during the Nasser era of the mid 50’s and a man of great intellect, a quiet voice, expensive tastes and finely tailored suits.  In retrospect, I have often wondered if he was an arms dealer.

I never said I was very smart when it came to asking questions.

I guess I’m asking them now.

I boarded that airplane in blind faith, flew for what seemed like eternity, arrived in the middle of the oppressively humid night, was whisked off the tarmac in an armored Mercedes limo without so much as going through any sort of passport control and found myself in a swanky hotel setting up shop as a writer without a country. With no real clue as to what I was doing there, I managed to pull off this all expenses paid gig and live to tell about it.  The holy month of Ramadan began a few days after my arrival and for the next six months, in a crash course of sensory overload, Cairo was what I called home.

As I read the above paragraph, I can’t help but wonder what thoughts were going through that pea brain of mine.  I was no wiser in making that decision then, than our own government was years later in deciding to invade Afghanistan.  And just like our military, I certainly had not considered how I was going to survive the terrain or planned any sort of exit strategy. 

I must have been a typical dumb American after all.  That I made it out of there alive without harm or foul (and made money!) astounds me to this day still. I was equal parts stupid and lucky.

Now that I have nearly twice as much life experience in me than I did back then, while everyone is still dissecting the SOTU speech, I can’t help but think we (the collective dumb Americans; myself included) are once again missing many matters of greater importance in the world arena than few will football in a matter of weeks. I won't be one of them.

We are failing to see the current protests and violent demonstrations that are taking place and how they will have an effect on much more than the people of Egypt.  The political climate is the ball that most of us are not keeping our eyes on because we are too busy thinking about the Super Bowl. 

We may think it is of little concern to us because Egypt is over there and doesn’t really have anything to do with us over here.  We may believe that things will escalate and then settle down and everything will return to “normal”, once the protestors get put in their proper places (jail, anyone?). We may also believe that this is nothing more than an inconvenient, minor uprising, equivalent to a burning match in an ashtray as opposed to a raging fire in the belly of millions of civilians not only in Egypt, but elsewhere.  I can’t tell you why (because I’m not a political pundit, historian or scholar of such things) but intuitively, I believe we would be wrong.

Everything from Obama’s legacy and Hillary Clinton’s future may very well rest on and be determined by how America reacts and responds (or doesn’t) to the unfolding new old world order that is about to play out in censored reports and photographs in the coming days.  I would suggest following Stellaa for sharp analysis and commentary as she is Egyptian-born, has greater access to other media and better skill to explain what is really happening and perhaps even how it will effect us all in the future.  We could all go to school on her so that we are better prepared students for the exams that will come later on.  My instincts tell me that we are about to be tested as a people.  Again.

I can’t help but picture Bill Clinton’s old 1992 campaign War Room where “It’s the Economy, Stupid” was scrawled out on the whiteboard to keep everyone on the same page.  And even though this is once again the sad case here in America, what we’re about to witness in Cairo is about much more than that.  How it will unravel, be explained and what the long-term impact will be remains to be seen.

I just wish I were as smart today as I might become 20 years from now to know the reasons why.

We have the right to remain silent. 

We often are. 

Until it’s too late.  

Egypt is rising. 


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the cradle of civilization errupts, again. will the Nile remain fertile, will it flow to the great library of Alexandria...may the rains comes and give her another age of eternity...
This piece gives me chills. ~r
Ah, and so glad to see that it will be on the cover now...
Been picking up hints on NPR of this broiling Mideast situation. Thank goodness Obama is president. Can't begin to imagine the scenario we'd be facing with McCain. Change is indeed a'comin'. BTW it's hard to picture you ever having been naïve.
But WHY is Egypt rising?
R, of course. Am awed by your perspective/wealth of experience. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for this. How much of the world do we allow ourselves to ignore because it seems too far away. These uprisings could affect all of us in ways hard yet to imagine. My heart is almost too full to add more. Thank you, cartouche, for helping us to look and possibly to question.
I agree--we should be paying attention. There are many reasons this is a pivotal moment. Very interesting reading your personal perspective.
Rising it is, and I am in awe and admiration. Thanks for the Stellaa tip!
You're spot on in drawing attention to this (and others like Lebanon) cartouche. I've no idea how it will play out but it's the Middle East and evrything has ripple effeccts there. When the U.S. is pumping $15-20 B annually there, a goodly chunk going to Egypt, there's bound to be consequences. Obama made a positive sort of acknowledgment to the protesters which may help in the U.S. not being seen as The Great Satan. A statement isn't much but it's more than many others would do in his shoes.

Did you hear that today Egypt has cut of the Internet and cell phones? I'm going to ask my I.T. guy how they do that.
It looks like the whole Middle East is fixing to explode. For good or bad, something is going to happen in the next few weeks that may well change the Middle East forever. Cross you fingers and hope it's not the religious zealots who take over!
Thanks for shifting our attention ever so gently to where it should be. Also, thanks for reminding us that Stellaa's blog is a good place to turn. I plan on educating myself today.
Great read and only you could knock back a white dress and shoes in the sand..:)
Rated with hugs
See, that's it right there. We have tons of media distraction and Super Bowls and fast food specials to appease us so that our angry young men aren't that angry and certainly wouldn't go into the streets. Listening to a young woman on NPR yesterday speaking of the protests, and after Tunisia, and also now Yemen, and Iran last year, this is amazing and wonderful and frightening. It is the fight for liberty from oppression, as new layers of liberty evolve in society and old skins of oppression become obsolete. It is (I hope) good news for the Egyptian citizens.
I have never been, and have my concerns about tourism in countries where as a white, western woman I may have too many social and political conflicts, and accept that I may never be welcome to go (in 92, I believe, or soon after some tourists were killed there). I went to Morocco at that time, and realized there are parts of the world not yet for me. But I hope for the people who own this land, whose countries these are, who legacy of civilization there is, I hope for them that they may own their future and can bring democracy and the seeds of equality into their present.
We learn some skills as we age, but I think we are always naive, because there is always so much we don't know. Thanks for steering me to Stellaa.
Excellent write. And spot on.

It may be that the genie is out of the bottle and even though (as I write this) Mubarak is starting to react with rubber bullets, fire hoses, and imprisoning opposition leader Mohammed El-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mubarak's opposition may have reached a critical mass.

If they are successful, the one sure thing is that there is lots of anti-Western sentiment among the Egyptian people.

This poses a huge problem for the US: support Mubarak or let the thing run its course.

Either way could prove a disaster for any prospect of Middle Eastern peace. It's a lead pipe cinch that Iranian money is finding its way into Cairo.
When Tunisians in the street were interviewed, someone said that this was just the beginning of a Middle Eastern revolution. The real news and communication between folks is no longer the media but cyberspace. I do hope Stella will write something we won't get at Big Media dot com.
We only seem to embrace democracy in other lands when it suits our political and economic agenda.
Such would not be the case in Egypt.
Ominous and concerning...
And I thought there would be no sense posting anything until after the weekend because of football. Thanks for proving me wrong. Finally, something worthwhile on the cover. -R-
I'm getting very nervous watching the news reports. You are absolutely right, we need to pay attention.
I'm in complete agreement with you except for Obama's SOTU speech.

In it he proposed that the US implement an "US against Them" philosophy which is EXACTLY what we we SHOULDN'T do. We need to pay damn close attention to what's going on in Egypt and the Middle East.

In his move to embrace the radical right, he has seemed to forgotten that the one thing that has always made this country different is that we (well, some of us anyways) care about those who are suffering and subject to governmental repression.

He wants to walk away from that and make it all about "US", which is exactly what we did in Iran. We supported a corrupt regime for our own self interested and ignored the people. We don't need another Iran in the world.
As usual, your comments are very insightful and thought provoking. It seems like an Iran situation again with the Shah-like Mubarak being thrown out. I keep hearing that the Muslim Brotherhood is now getting involved and I don't think this will bode well for anybody who is looking for freedoms and equal rights. It gives us a chance to think of the many freedoms we take for granted in our country.
As has been pointed out by the engaged since 9/11- the conflict is not between Islam and the West, it is internal to Islam, a religion significantly younger than the others of Abraham. The time of maturation is NOW.

"If I could go back in time to anywhere in Earth's history it would be to the Library at Alexandria before the fall." (Carl Sagan, paraphrazed)
Cartouche, thanks for the knock upside the head. Vacuous distractions such as the Super Bowl are understandable in a time of relentless upheavals of every kind -- wars, blizzards, earthquakes, floods, massacres, etc. -- someone has to keep the nations's general consciousness on point, and there's nobody better at it than you. The near future is rife with frightening possibilities. It would have been a crime NOT to put this on the cover.

My gut feeling agrees with your gut feeling.
I just blogged about this: The Dominoes Are Falling. I think this will have massive repercussions that we aren't even thinking about yet.
Great post. Boy, you've had an exciting life.
It's always a difficult choice for America when a country we are allied with experiences an uprising (this goes all the way back to George Washington and the French Revolution, which split the cabinet and Congress in two.) We have messed up before -- our backing of the Shah of Iran comes to mind. There are other examples. It is best, I think, for us to step out of the way and let the chips fall where they may, although in some cases we can try to make a difference. But taking sides is risky. Even the most well-intentioned revolutions can turn into Reigns of Terror. What then?
Thank you, Patricia. I had skimmed over Stellaa's piece yesterday but I know I have to go back and read it more thoroughly. I find her opinions and writing often reasonable. So glad yours made the cover, and I hope it brings more attention to the subject.
Hunter Thompson would be proud, you wrote this as he would have if he were you.

It reminded me a lot of my trips to Vegas!
Don't we have to take sides? It is like a marriage. We have supported Egypt for so long that we can't back out now. What a shame too as we need to step back and stay out of it. The threat to Israel is very real so that means we will be involved too. Cartouche, this was an excellent post and Djohn's post is too.
No telling where this is going. Shifting sands and times.
Very few seem to have any awareness.
I love this story! Gosh I know what you mean. In a couple of decades I'm gonna be a genius compared to now.
And why doesn't America rise?
For a country born of revolution against a tyrant, our history is far too replete with support of tyrants. Tyrants friendly to the U.S. point of view (or, at least, to U.S. $$) are expedient for both the political and business communities.

Some now-dead farmer once wrote something about one thing or another being self-evident, being endowed (the braggart) with unalienable rights and something along the lines of, "That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Sounds like a head-in-the-clouds liberal to me. Has no idea how the world really works.
This is not what I expected from your clever title, young lady! I thought this was going to be a geological essay on the shifting tectonic plates in the middle eastern region of Egypt and the actual elevation changes going on there!

But, on it's own merits, this was a fantastic bit of writing!
Let's hope that the current administrations plans about Egypt are not just another pyramid scheme.
I delibearately penned that pun.

However, I've been around so long that I don't have much, if any, confidence that this administration has much common sense about how to be part of the world.
Thanks Patricia - you can always be counted on to keep us on the straight and narrow, Thanks too for the point in Stella's direction, despite Bonnie's disparaging remarks I will check her out too.
the internet went silent and dark as the nile flowed towards the sea. i hope the tides bring peace and true freedom.
Thanks for the eloquent reminder that there are more important things than a football game or the latest celebrity meltdown, and that we ignore these important things at our own peril.

(And I would love to read your autobiography!)
I have been following this story as closely as I can. Though I am nowhere near smart enough to tell you what is going to happen, I do believe that whatever happens will impact this country directly. I believe that in this day and age, where global economies interconnect all countries, when one nation sneezes, many more catch cold.
This is frightening, especially with communication being cut off. This could be a war of epic proportions. I'm praying that it will come to a peaceful resolve.
I feel such solidarity to these wonderful people. They have the right idea. We should be doing something along the same lines here. As for what Obama and Clinton et al do, I hope for once the United States stays out of things - or lets the actual citizens determine their future - instead of the U.S. constantly backing anti-democratic and oppressive regimes. But, ah...where money and big business is concerned and the profits of all those involved, I fear for the citizens of Egypt.
Fascinating post...fascinating life!!!
I like the Packers to take it all and to beat the point-spread.

MVP Aaron Rodgers will be going to DisneyWorld after the game.
i appreciate knowing your history with egypt -- and would love to hear more about the general ; -- and am watching and learning with fascination on news websites and TV. personally i think our president and his incredibly smart and *very* engaged and involved sec. of state have a pretty good handle on what's going on over there, whether they're talking about it or not. i trust them and believe they're choosing a careful and correct path for the US in a very dicey part of the world. congrats on the EP, p.
Thanks for getting this onto the front page, cartouche, and for your deference to Stellaa.
You're right about being wrong. "There" and "Here" have ceased to exist.
Even with Mubarak leaning on vodafone to cut the service, news is pouring through the cracks. It's like the rest of the world suddenly gives a damn, and the people on the streets there know it.

I can't help thinking of Mohamed Bouazizi, the guy with the fruit and veg stall in Tunis, who set himself alight six weeks ago. The blaze of outrage he ignited, all across North Africa and into the Middle East. Sometimes all it takes is one person, who has had enough.
Well for crissakes you are one helluva cool woman. You have a richly textured life (and it serves as a font for interesting essays). Seasoned women are always the most fascinating...
A wafting that takes us to then and to now. Good choice for EP.
I am curious where this is going. I don't comprehend what freedom entails in the middle east? Does it mean freeing themselves from the 21st century? Or freeing themselves from the American/capitalist version of it?

Does it mean less freedom for women? Freedom to oppress through religion? Or maybe it means none of those things. I don't know what to hope for or what to expect.
You are right, we are now on the edge, again, of a great precipice, much will change and we will be swept into it and there is no guarantee of us making our way out of it without some damage, great damage perhaps.
This is a superb post and your observation that we are distracted -- from one of the greatest movements now unfolding in this century most likely -- is on the money. We need, both as a people and a nation, a government, to watch and learn -- from a distance. My youngest, when she was 20, attended university in Cairo and helped monitor a polling place during one of the Mubarak sham elections. She saw the hired thugs terrorizing voters. She saw her professor jailed without a trial. She saw a lot of things that foreshadowed this rising which may be most visible in Egypt now but I have no doubt will sweep the Arab world. Most of those ones in the streeta are young and secular. The MB has political traction and is passionately opposed to Al Qaeda. All our preconceptions about this are wrong and our media are feeding into them.

Steinbeck wrote of Norway occupied by Germany, that "The people don't like to be conquered." It sometimes takes time for this to reach the tipping point, but it always does.

We need to watch -- carefully and thoughtfully. It is a new world being born.

Great post. Rated
Sadly, too many people refuse to indulge in anything remotely political. They don't realize that politics governs who gets the last pork chop at the dinner table. Hopefully, people will be paying attention.
Reminds me a lot of Iran in 1979. And I think we're six administrations too late to be able to come out in good shape on the other side.
Interesting weaving of the personal and global, encapsulated in the photo. We are transient. Egypt is not, and its importance is hard to fathom for us. At the moment we can only hope for the best -- for them and for the world.
Yes, interconnected we all are...
I remember from my bible school daze that the beginning of days and the end of days will occur in the same place. It has been foretold in a number of writings over centuries. I have no reason to disbelieve, the promised land has always been that place.
Reading Stellaa. Want to be in class with you. Thank you for this.
First of all the Aswan Dam blocks the flow of water in the Nile and there are no longer the floods that make the land fertile. I saw very little life along the Nile, there were very skinny cows grazing on the limited grass, and very few fish and birds. The dam also does not produced the amount of electricity needed to run the country.

What I did see was a very poor nation and a population that was at best severely malnourished, especially in southern Egypt.

The problem is right now that Egypt is dependent on tourism, which is its largest industry. The country is very dependent on the US Dollars and Euros that come into the country from visitors. This can only further hurt the population, which is not only hungry for bread but also for freedom.
The US gives 1.5 Billion to Egypt, not 15 Billion and the "aid" is in the form of military subsides.
Thank you for this gently fierce reminder that the are immediate things occuring in the world that do not involve sports.

It is my hope that one day the focus will be on humanitarian issues and the journey of people in the world as opposed to capitalist issues and the journey of money and material excess into people's already overflowing hands.
How is a 23 year old invited as a guest to the Egyptian government
Pretty worldly for a 23 year old! I call that being smart....
Thanks for this article. I agree. Something big is happening. Remember the fall of the Berlin Wall anyone? Who could have predicted what would unfold ...
Thank God we are pretty much powerless to influence events in Egypt, as is Israel. Otherwise, it's a hard rain gonna fall.
Crane Brinton's ANATOMY OF REVOLUTION was the third serious history book I read (at age 17 ... the first two were by Richard Hofstadter, so there ya go).

He described the four stages of revolution ... ALL revolution (I pointed this out to some pseudo-Marxists in college in the early 1970s and found myself denounced as a reactionary ... all of that "factual basis" and "analysis" stuff, doncha know).

Per Brinton's formula, the Egyptians are still in the first, euphoric stage, when a bright future seems clear and easily obtainable, even inevitable. There are still 3 stages to go (including the Reign of Terror, which is Stage 3).

Still, I wish Egypt the best. The country has suffered at the hands of Western imperialism (THERE ... I used the "I" word, didn't I ?) for hundreds of years. May it emerge as a secular country that respects human rights and diverse citizens and diverse views within its boundaries ... unlike SOME countries in the world (you'd know the names in a moment) ... and NOT as a religious psyco-hotbed.
Thoughtful, firm piece. I too think this is just the tip of the iceberg.