Steven A. Leibo
July 5, 2012
Egypt’s Half Full Glass
There is an interesting symmetry to the news these days, one of those rare moments when we are deeply in touch with the essence of the civilizing experience. On one hand seeing America struggling mightily to try to catch up with the rest of the civilized world, finally hoping to match nations from Japan to Taiwan, From Israel to France, from Switzerland to Germany in caring enough about its people to try to supply them with affordable universal health care.
While Egypt one of the original builders of human civilization struggles with its own civilizing evolution toward representative democracy. And it’s not surprising that Americans are watching both carefully. Indeed, much of the world continues to watch with fascination the Egyptian effort to build a better future because Egypt represents one of the first examples of humanities to build a civilized society, its struggle to move past our earlier existence as nomadic hunter gatherers
Yes, a civilization that in almost every generation since has fascinated later peoples from the ancient Greek Herodotus who played tourist there To nineteenth century British travelers who wrote graffiti on the ruins of Luxor. To a world that watched with fascination at the efforts of Howard Carter to uncover the boy King Tut. Not forgetting the even larger numbers who gasped with enthusiastic mock horror at pseudo Egyptian images of Boris Karloff and Brendan Frazer’s Mummy. No Egypt, stands at center of much of human memory and myth. And yet I can’t think of a recent political development that has experienced such a gyration of differing interpretations. When Mubarak fell everyone crowed that it was a democratic revolution. When in truth the long dominant army had merely jettisoned the most vulnerable part of the establishment, the thin veneer Mubarak and his son’s had built. And now, we are told somehow it’s a new world again as new member of the long suppressed Muslim Brotherhood has come to power as Egypt’s First Elected President, a development that has certainly provoked some very powerful and emotional e-mails from Egyptian friends who have not been reticent to share their feelings. And of course the media analysts has been gyrating wildly from euphoria that Egypt has a newly elected President from the brotherhood to abject horror. While some cynically point out that even as the new president assumed office the Army, that has called the shots in Egypt since 1952 was stripping the presidential office of most of its real power. Just another army coup we were told but despite all that — in these days of the Arab Spring, as people throughout the region have sought to build a new life for themselves what happens in Egypt remains more important than elsewhere because, well let’s be honest, neither Libya nor Syria occupy the same mental space as the land of the Pharoses.
But understanding Egypt’s evolution has been dramatically weakened by yet anther aspect of modern civilization our insatiable need for dramatic speed and instant analysis most obviously demonstrated in the extraordinarily embarrassing recent coverage of the Supreme Court
While the evolution of governments, especially toward more open systems has invariably been a very slow process taking decades plus in nations from South Korea to Taiwan from Indonesia to perhaps more recently Burma.
I mean let’s be real here… America’s initial evolution toward a working constitutional system was so botched the founding fathers had to start all over when the Articles of Confederation failed and we still have a system where a candidate can become president while losing the votes of the American people. But sadly that sort of evolution just does not complement the needs of the 24 hour news cycle. But if we can just stand back, take a breath we can see that Egypt, with its increasingly diverse centers of power from the still pre-eminent Army to the ever more influential Muslim Brotherhood to the still struggling more progressive groups is doing just about as well as can be expected in its still infant revolutionary march toward a more open society.