Thursday, February 3, 2011

Egypt In Crisis

When I was young I often asked the question of my parents, "How was some one as evil as Hitler ever able to get control of a country like Germany." No one was able to give me an adequate answer. In fact, it took many years before I found a cultural touchstone to illustrate in almost textbook form how a dictator gains control of a people, and how he is able to hold them under a crushing boot.

That example was the Star Wars prequels, of all things. To those one or two of you who are not into the universe of Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi as created by George Lucas, one of the secondary characters was Chancellor Palpatine, who's real identity was Darth Sidious, a Sith and the sworn enemy of the Jedi knighthood.

Palpatine gained power as a trusted lawmaker of the Galactic Republic, who behind the scenes clandestinely forged alliances with various enemies of the Republic and pitted one side against another, creating crisis after crisis in which he would emerge as the Republic's savior. In the climactic third film of the prequel Palpatine was able to seize control of the government and declare himself the first Emperor of the Galactic Empire, and order the destruction of the Jedi.

No one has been able to illustrate the birth of a dictatorship than this pop cultural phenomenon. Lucas used Hitler's rise as a template for Palpatine, but he just as easily could have used Julius Caesar, Lenin, or Napoleon; all seized power in a similar way. They arose in the midst of chaos....some or all of it their own making....and emerged as the strongman. Where there once was a republic and self determination, there became a dictatorship or the creation of an empire, with a new emperor to call the shots.

I remained quiet about the situation in Egypt for the past week, but like just about everyone else I have been following the crisis on the 24 hour news stations. That is, until the plug was pulled first on the internet (since restored) and then the recent crackdown and harassment of foreign journalists that has seemed to reach a new level today.

For the past week protesters have demanded the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, the US ally who's ruled with an iron fist for 30 years. Tomorrow, Friday February 4, is the deadline demanded by the hundreds of thousands of anti- government protesters in Cairo. Though Mubarak has promised not to run again for the presidency, the protesters want him out now.

Yesterday pro-government goons were turned on the peaceful protesters, turning Cairo into a battle zone. The scene yesterday resembled a hybrid from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and DR> ZHIVAGO, with men on horseback and camels riding into crowds of protesters, brandishing swords, machetes, clubs, and iron bars while the army stood by and watched. Later Molotov cocktails and other incendiary bombs were hurled into the crowd. In the words of NBC's Ron Allen, as I type this, the situation in Cairo has become "an armed conflict".

And today there were attacks on foreign journalist, and arrests. Katie Couric was harassed by a mob, Anderson Cooper was punched, Lara Logan "detained", with dozens of similar incidents to other foreign journalists and news crews. No pictures are coming out of Cairo, and most journalists are calling in their stories in from hidden locations, their lives being in jeopardy. Some journalists have been accused of being agents of the United States, or of other Western nations, and some have been called spies for Israel.

Since yesterday 13 people have been killed and 1,200 have been injured.

Over the weekend Richard Engel of NBC news was on MEET THE PRESS. Engel intimated that Mubarak just might try to exploit the crisis to have a government crackdown. He'd allow anarchy to take hold of the streets of Cairo and throughout Egypt, and then use military force to restore order. Though President Obama has called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis- hinting that it's time for Mubarak to step down- Mubarak appears to be defiant. The conventional wisdom is that the genie is out of the bottle, and it is indeed over for Hosni Mubarak.

What's next is anyone's guess. With hope, Egypt can emerge as a modern secular Muslim state like Turkey, Indonesia, or Algeria, and do so relatively peacefully. But then there is the other extreme....another Beirut or Tehran from a generation ago, with a similar outcome.

One thing is certain......we are closer to the beginning of this story than we are to it's end.

Let's pray and hope for a peaceful transition, and a move to a true democracy......and progression rather than regression.

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