. . . what Egypt needs is a Nelson Mandela . . .
I want, genuinely, to be hopeful and optimistic about the future of Egypt even though I am, sadly, an inveterate pessimist and doomsayer—but in order to instill a kind of complicated hope in me I am going to begin this post by talking a bit about South Africa, the country in which I was born some 45 distant years ago (I moved to Dallas, TX with my family in 1980).
South Africa is a great success story. A miracle. A miracle that she was able to emerge from Apartheid with, at the end, such a minimal amount of bloodshed and economic damage (so many, within and without, had predicted total calamity: a bloodbath accompanied by economic ruin).
And, so, let’s revisit an interview that I recently did with South African poet Antjie Krog which ended with me asking Antjie “how (do) you feel about where your country is now? And where do you think it’s headed (challenges, possibilities, hope, etc)? and her answering:
“I am in two minds, always. Part of me understands why things are so out of hand, is even surprised that things go so well taking into account the systematic deprivation of education and schooling and the generations of humiliated and scorned senses of self. At other times I think: this government cannot deliver what is necessary and it will have to, at some stage, say: we WANT to give you a better life, but these whites are in the way.”
Antjie’s assessment and premonitions of future difficulties and violence are sad, but not unwarranted. One way to deal with difficulties is to cut the head off the supposed snake of the problem. To kill the goat. (And the goat of course may really be a goat.)
And depending on which side you’re on (for or against The Muslim Brotherhood, for or against The Army) there are strong and primitive drives, in Egypt now, to cut the head off the snake – And to gut the goat. Extremists (some of them writers and intellectuals) believe that the Muslim Brotherhood should be eradicated completely. With extreme prejudice. “we WANT to give you a better life, but these (Brotherhood terrorists) are in the way.”
Others, less extreme and of a more humanistic nature, believe The Brotherhood is, and was, incompetent to lead. And, more critically, believe that Political Islam is impossible. And for us Americans, especially writers and intellectuals, living in a society where the separation of Church and State is so absolutely sacrosanct (let’s forget for now the right wing bastards who’d like to mandate, among other things, teaching creationism in schools) this seems like a natural and obvious position to take. (Strange, then, that the U.S. would endorse and stand behind a politically Islamic government–but, that, now, is a whole other can of worms).
But, back to snakes. The Muslim Brotherhood, when it ruled, tried to cut the head off the snake in a different way (or you could say it did what it could to protect the head of the snake—this all depends on which side you’re on. Or what you think of snakes. Snakes, of course, aren’t inherently bad. Except in our sacred books.) I’m talking here of Morsi’s constitutionally giving himself absolute powers. And that, combined with economic difficulties for the man on the street, was the beginning of the end for him. And now, again, the country is in the Army’s hands—an Army many believe is just the “lesser of two evils.”
There are, of course, conflicting reports of how many have died in Egypt in the last week. But it is not the head of the snake that lies piled up in the morgues. No, really, the majority of the dead are poor people. In the case of The Brotherhood the victims are, for the most part, extremely poor people.
I am no political expert. I am not a subtle thinker. No philosopher. Not much at all, really. I am just a guy in Kirkland, WA who is struggling to hope. But, I do remember when I moved to the U.S. my family was not hopeful for our old country. And, of course, South Africa isn’t out of the woods yet (look at Antjie’s quote). But what happened there was miraculous. Men like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu were pragmatic, deep-hearted and successful. (and they make me ashamed, in a way, of my own fatal, shadowed thinking).
But are there men like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in Egypt (there must be, of course)? And if there are (there must be, of course) is the situation simply too dire? Too complicated? Is religion too much of an issue? (snake, snake, snake).
And can peace, in Egypt now, come without snake decapitation?
And how much more blood will run in the streets?
Blood and hopelessness run easily and fervently through my mind and my poetry.
But, I will hold out hope.