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The International Writers Magazine: Egypt

Walk like an Egyptian
Saleem Ayoub Quna
Eight days now and counting after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in their own cities and townships to express their dissatisfaction with their leadership, under President Husni Mubarak.


The song 'Walk like an Egyptian' by the Bangles was released in 1986 with lyrics by Laim Sterberg just 6 years after President Husni Mubarak took office. The song at that time was a hit. But the man who rose to power in Egypt during that same period kept walking the thin line of the Middle East politics until today. The following lines are in memory of those unforgettable by-gone days and of the extraordinary present. 

Politics in the Arab world often are so surreal that they're apt for the best scenarios of motion pictures. That night in April 2003 when Baghdad fell to two American tanks without shooting one bullet as the whole world was bracing for a final decisive battle nicknamed by then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the "Mother of all battles?" As it turned out, it was the swiftest and quietest confrontation between two adversaries in history! 

President Husni Mubarak, took office 30 years ago, now there is a precarious stand off between the two sides; a kind of tug of war in which one or the other side, sooner than later, will give up, loose their nerves and control and consequently loose the battle.

Each side has been betting on his own cards while the whole world, especially the Arab world and the close allies of Egypt such as the US, and Israel are carefully monitoring the situation and making their own calculations, that are not necessarily to the benefit of either of the local Egyptian antagonists: Each outside player obviously trying to extract the maximum benefit or minimize the damage from the Egyptian experience, depending on where this side or the other is standing.

The present debacle in Egypt started unfolding just few weeks after the Tunisian experience ended by the ousting of Zain-Al Abedin Bin Ali's regime which ruled Tunisia for 23 years. In that world favorite tourist destination, Tunisia, a young vegetable vendor named Mohammad Bu-alzizi 26, was so annoyed by the local police harassment that he set himself on fire and died. His death put an end to his personal misery and anger, but by some kind of magical power, his act ignited a wide popular revolt by the rest of the unhappy Tunisian populace and of course the organized opposition parties, those banned and legal, who saw a rare golden opportunity to invest on this unprecedented individual act of despair by the young Bu-alazizi.
It took only days for the Tunisian President and his entourage to flee the country, thus closing another sad chapter in the history of that North African state and ushered a new more promising era, which is not yet certain.

Gossip on the Internet, Facebook, twitter, chat rooms and other modern tools of communication in Egypt and the Arab world went on air of that heroic individual act of Bu-alazizi that was emulated by a handful of equally disgruntled Arab youth in Algeria, Yemen, Egypt and other places. A new most welcome "virus" that can be dubbed the "Bu-alzizim" syndrome has hit the collective Arab Psyche! Its main preys: the corrupted dictatorships in the Arab world. Its only remedy: democracy and fair distribution of wealth among their poor.

The Egyptian President in a desperate effort to fight off that virus resorted to some innovative measures in the hope to calm down critical popular sentiments against his person and his ruling party, but those on the other side of the fence were not impressed, saying it was too little, too late and a  little tricky. For example, he sacked his last cabinet and appointed a new more "digestible" team. He also named for the first time in three decades a Vice –President, who previously held the key post of head of the renowned Egyptian Intelligence service. He later asked his new deputy to immediately engage in a dialogue with the opposition figures and this was seen by the protesters as a trap for them and tactic to gain more time for the regime.

How such a dialogue can take place? Imagine the Vice President saying: "I understand you position, but I have to report back to my boss. You think I can tell him: Please, Sir, pack your things and go hide somewhere because you protesters in the streets say so!?"

Representative of the opposition would be saying in a rebuttal: "Thank you Mr. Vice President for this chance to hear us out. But do you think I can go back and tell those angry people in all the streets and squares around the country: 'Calm down a little, the President and his new team will speed up steps to answer all your demands, just give him another 30 years!'

Among the most interesting features of this non-violent confrontation between the demonstrators and the army is this fraternal and friendly rapport that has been binding the two together so far. In its first communiqué since the beginning of the revolt the army spokesman on State TV declared that the: "Army understands the legitimate concerns and demands of the Egyptian people and that it will not use force against them."

Another typical Egyptian humorist side-gist while demonstrating protest against the actual regime is this Egyptian man, in the big square in Cairo, holding his seemingly frail black and white cat to his chest. It was the cat who hung a small brown piece of carton which read in Arabic: "Mubarak, go!"

Summarizing this 8 days-long live melodrama that gripped the attention of the whole world including US President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the tantalizingly tug of war is being played between one single man who used to hear two words "Yes Sir" for the last 30 years whenever he said a word, and millions of intimidated Egyptians who suddenly gained power, boldness and inspiration from a helpless Tunisian vegetable vendor who could not take it anymore.

The third party waiting for an eventual showdown between these two camps is history itself. For how long it can hold its patience before reaching its own well-earned deal?  

 © saleem quna Feb 1st 2011
 * Saleem is a free-lance journalist and author of two books in English on cultural life in Amman.

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