Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We the People?

I had fully intended to devote this entry to the most recent referendum here in Egypt to amend the country's constitution. It looked to be a contentious vote and one in which many Egyptians (some who had lived all of their lives under the rule of King Mubarak, some also under King Farouk) were going to vote for the very first time. Those who favored the amendments were one of a number of groups--the entitled members of the former regime, the well-organized, but much maligned Muslim Brotherhood, and those who just want their lives to go back to the way things were pre-January 25 as quickly as possible. Those who were against the changes were the many marginalized groups or those who were responsible for the initial protests--students, intellectuals, youth, Coptic Christians, splinter groups from the people in power. The whole thing looked like it could bring about another round of riots, looting and chaos. I waited anxiously to see what Sunday's announcement of the vote would bring. What a letdown--no noise, no riots, no excitement. People waited patiently in line and cast their votes. No crisis, no drama (ok, opposition candidate El Baradei had rocks thrown at his car, but so did Prince Charles and Camilla) ...just an exercise in democracy that seems to have worked, at least for now. Yes to the amendments and now onward to elections of a new government in the fall. I was going to then launch into a treatise on the lessons to be learned from the Founding Fathers and their compromises that led to such a solid yet flexible document that has lasted since its inception. Yada, yada, yada.

But my thoughts on how disparate groups can get along if they just keep calm and think logically were discombobulated by the discourse on how the international community is reacting to the events unfolding in Libya. Just when you thought there was a clear, megalomaniacal, evil nut-job at the helm towards whom it would be simple for everyone to rally against and put a good hate on, everyone goes strangely wiggly. Countries that had indicated support for UN Resolution 1973 are beginning to balk now that the rubber has hit the road, so to speak. Egypt claims that it will not participate in enforcing the no-fly zone for fear of hitting the not insubstantial number of Egyptian citizens still stuck in Libya. Turkey won't play...yes, the bi-polar nation that on the one hand has been petitioning to become a member of the European Union, but now refuses to lift a finger against a potential Middle Eastern ally (they are really torked off because they were not invited to the Sarkozy UN Security Council after-party). Russia abstained, huffing and puffing about the potential civilian casualties...yes, we know that has always been a heart-felt concern of theirs. UAE wants to know Western intentions vis a vis Bahrain before making a move. And of course, everyone is backpedaling quickly because nobody really has the money or the will to get involved in what, given the generally accepted level of absurd intransigence of Colonel Gaddafi, will certainly be a protracted fight. Thus, leaving the US holding the bag or letting go and taking the blame for any failure. Like we would be surprised if France decided to knock off work early? Do we really expect the cavalry to swoop in from Qatar? No, undoubtedly we will be the people to help form a more perfect union..or not, again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Year of Living Dangerously

Who knew that when our family decided to scatter to the corners of the globe, we would be choosing locations destined to make front page news in 2011? Yes, we did anticipate that Steph's gig in Afghanistan could be frought with peril, but we certainly did not expect that I would have to evacuate Egypt for a political revolution or that one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history would shake Alex in Tokyo! Nor did I have plan to have Adrie on vacation in tsunami prone Phuket on the same day as the Japanese event moved the country eight feet off kilter and sent monster waves across the planet. No, the calm, tranquil life that we were leading a year ago in Costa Rica now seems light years and many traumatic events away. So how to deal with all of this excitement? Well, I suppose I could duck down under a desk and wait for the all clear siren to blow. Or, I could could look at all the places and people who have it worse off (I did not take a job in Libya; Steph did not take a job in Haiti). Or I could embrace the chaos and hang on for the ride. I guess I choose the latter.

So where is the ride taking us now? Well, here in Egypt things are beginning to go back to some semblance of normal, but there is an undercurrent of uncertainty, not only in what is going to happen on a long term basis to the goverment of Egypt, but what the average day to day activities will bring. Right now, there are few, if any police working in Alexandria, and there have been many reported muggings, home invasions, gang related assaults and murders. Before getting too worked up, however, you need to know that, for what it's worth, the Egyptian people seem to love a good story...the more fantastic, the better. I have heard enough rumors and conspiracy theories to keep Oliver Stone busy for a lifetime, so it is difficult to sort out what the risk factor really is. Whether real or hype, however, it has created a somewhat chilling effect on activities outside of our school walls and people seem to be somewhat less willing to venture out too far or for too long. I am sure this is temporary, at least until there is a greater sense of order and there is a decision on who will be responsible for maintaining civic order. Right now, it seems to be available on an ad hoc basis only.

As for our Japanese based son, he seems to be none the worse for wear...shaken, not stirred and somewhat miffed at all of the coverage from the US based media making what he views to be a big hype out of things and making everyone worry. His part of Tokyo did not get the same treatment as the folks who suffered from not only the quake but the ensuing tsunami, so luckily he only was tossed around a bit and has not had any significant loss of services. But the visuals from the media are powerful and one can only hope that there is some relief in store soon for those whose lives were upended by this natural disaster. And, we keep our fingers crossed that the nuclear plants do not exude any significant radiation damage. That country has had its quota of atomic fallout, thank you very much.

The news I get from Afghanistan remains cryptic on a good day, and too much information on a bad day. As Steph is never on a secure line when I talk to him, I don't get the full story of what is going on around him, but since he has been increasingly confined to the base on which he lives, I can only assume that things are bad. As he said to me today, "Hey, I haven't been shot at since the last time we spoke" and that was somehow supposed to comfort me? The good news is that he is enroute to the US for a much needed home leave and then will join me in Bangkok, Thailand for some R&R. Maybe then I will get the real story, but unclear whether I will have the necessary clearances to post details here. Guess I will just have to learn to be cryptic, too.

Last, but never least, is our Scotland based daughter, who should have been the only one that was in a full safety zone in the UK (what risks are there?...indulging in too much really, really great scotch? Running into a herd of sheep?) No, it couldn't be that easy--she just so happened to have been vacationing in Phuket, Thailand with a friend..yes, THAT Phuket....the one that was engulfed by the tsunami in 2004. Thankfully, a less geographically challenged friend assured me that any tsunami from Japan would be a Pacific Ocean problem, not an Indian Ocean issue and therefore I had little to worry about. Easy for her to say...she doesn't have children yet! I was, of course, relieved when Adrie called on Skype from her apartment in Edinburgh with nothing more serious than a case of jet lag to report.

So let's hope that's all the excitement of this nature I have to write about for this year...or any other year, for that matter. But, it is only March, and at least in Egypt, there is a vote for constitutional changes at the end of this week and an historic election slated for September. So perhaps the year of living dangerously is only just starting. Bring it...and I'll hang on for dear life!