Saturday, February 5, 2011

Standing on the Shifting Sand

What a difference a day makes. On Friday, January 28, I was sitting in the Hague, drinking a double espresso and thinking just how clean, organized and orderly Europe was. By Saturday, I was sitting in the middle of a firestorm as the streets of Alexandria and Cairo erupted in riots over the recalcitrant Hosnai Mubarak and his government’s failure to resolve the problems of Egypt. On Tuesday, I was evacuated from Alexandria to Washington, DC, via Prague and Reykjavik and by Thursday I had walked from the US Capital to the Lincoln Memorial, bought a local cell phone, an ITouch, and had a glass of really lovely California Chardonnay. The surreal nature of the past week is only now catching up to me, so this posting may or may not be the definitive version of events. But it is the best I can do right now.

Who knew that the people of Egypt would finally boil over? But talk about a slow burn! For those of you who remember, Mubarak came into power in 1981 (the year I graduated from college!) when Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Keep in mind, Mubarak was not elected by the people of Egypt; he was appointed as Vice President of Egypt by Sadat in 1975. He was “elected” president on three occasions where he ran unopposed and one in which he had his closest rival jailed after the fact. So he has effectively managed to hang on to absolute power in a “democratic” country for nearly 30 years without ever being freely and fairly elected. During that time, he has strengthened the police power, legalized censorship, suspended constitutional rights, been accused of all manner of corruption, and, not surprisingly, survived six assassination attempts. In addition, the economic status of many Egyptians has deteriorated at a time when food prices are soaring and unemployment for Egyptian youth is staggeringly high. It's no wonder that, to paraphrase a 1980’s movie mantra“they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore!”

So the protesters took to the streets while looters, who always seem to crawl out of the dark corners of society, created havoc in Cairo, Alexandria and the Sinai Penninsula. It was the looters and the potential for armed conflict that had me the most disconcerted in Alexandria. Since no one trusted the police (too corrupt, too brutal), groups of men would go out on the streets with bats, clubs and kitchen knives as a sort of vigilante neighborhood watch to make sure no one looted their businesses or broke into their homes. On my school campus, we had members of our staff running around looking for bottles , baseball bats and golf clubs to use as weapons. There was a major altercation out in front of our campus gate, during which warning gunshots were fired to stave off potential looters. We were safe for the most part because our neighbors were protecting the school. Still, when the offer came for us to take a charter plane to the US, most of us decided that it would be better to be in the US saying how we really didn’t need to leave than to be sitting in Alexandria saying how we really should have gone.

End in all, I have a great deal o faith in the people of Egypt. They are good, kind and intelligent people who will settle down and make some necessary changes in the government. However, the sooner Mubarak gives up the ghost and lets loose the reins of power, the more likely that scenario becomes. Even now, it seems that the safety concerns are decreasing and I fully expect to be back in Alexandria teaching in a week or so. But not before I have a few more really great cups of coffee, some pork products and a few more glasses of California wine. Inshallah.


  1. I am impressed! Inshallah and yak shamlar!

  2. Thanks for the update. Having the view of one on the ground is helpful. Glad you took the plane however. I just thought you were still in the Hague so wasn't worried. Glad to find out you were back in Egypt on a plane out. Be safe.

  3. I wish you were one of our network reporters; thanks for providing what is a well written account AND a balanced one.

  4. What a harrowing exprience. Glad all is ok and you are safe and sound.