The Middle East: An Update

I know… once again this blog has failed to keep up with the rather current events taking place in the Middle East… though I have been reading much about what is currently unfolding in Cairo, Yemen, and now Syria and Jordan. Poor Lebanon’s almost been squeezed out of the news. Nobody cares anymore about Hezbollah’s “coup”, if you will. The events in Cairo have greatly overshadowed the news coming out of the Middle East. Just a couple of quick notes before I get down to business here. First off, I don’t think anybody ever expected or thought that 2011 would be the year where such fundamental changes would take place in the Middle East. What we are witnessing is truly having a profound impact on the way in which Arab citizens in countries around the region interact with their leaders. For me, it was best put by an Egyptian street protester interviewed by CNN, he spoke in broken English and said to the camera, that what we are witnessing is a rebirth of the Arabic mind. And this is precisely what is happening. It is truly historic. And I am profoundly jealous and bitter that I am not there to witness it myself, though as I write this, events in Egypt have taken a sudden, violent turn. But still, it is funny to reflect how the last year I spent in Beirut was oddly peaceful and pretty much functioned under the existing status quo, which has now been completely upended. We are truly witnessing a historic change in the Middle East.

Here’s what I’ve found to be of some interest in tracking these events…

This is probably the most ironic image I’ve seen recently :

Courtesy The Daily Dish: Democracy in The Middle East – A Visual Argument

Here is a rather fascinating insight into the events in Cairo written by a Google Blogspot blogger by the name of The Bionic Arabist who writes the blog The Colorless Revolution.
I’ll repost the entry entitled The Anti-Lawrence here, in its entirety.

I wrote this late at night/early in the morning, when I had decided to go. I’m not sure it’s the most flattering portrait of my thought-processes, but it’s honest:

I’m not exactly living through a revolution so much as living next to one. Most of the foreigners I know in Cairo, except the journalists and would-be journalists, are having a similar experience. Ultimately, this is why I’m going to leave Cairo. I don’t think I’m in danger, but this isn’t my revolution, my family and friends are worrying, and I don’t really know what to do with myself here.

The thing that I don’t know how to explain over the phone is the mixture of boredom and excitement. In one sense, it’s really boring. I spend most of my time glued to al-Jazeera, or cooking to distract myself. Occasionally, I can hear gunfire coming from the Interior Ministry, a couple blocks away, but that’s as scary as it gets (pro-tip: when searching for an apartment, consider whether you want to live next to the most hated ministry in the country. Location, location, location). Needless to say, I’m not getting dissertation research done. Libraries aren’t open, and for some reason nobody wants to talk about houses…

But there’s another sense in which it’s really exciting. This feels vain, but it’s true. It’s intoxicating. All around me, people are coming together with remarkable discipline to bring down a regime whose combination of thuggishness and banality was making me depressed, to say nothing of the people it was actually hurting. It’s exciting. I feel like I’m in the realest place in the world.

But it’s not actually my revolution. I haven’t been protesting or covering it like a journalist, or doing anything else to bask in the reflected glory of Egypt’s uprising, to feel like I’m a part of it. It’s tempting to join in the protests, but it would feel to me like a case of Lawrence of Arabia syndrome. I’m a nerdy little scholar who often finds life back home boring. Planting myself in someone else’s protest to feel like I’m involved in Something would be, I don’t know how else to put it, deeply self-indulgent. It’s not my country, and if I don’t like the new or the old regime, I can leave; the stakes for me are not the same as for Egyptians here.

The Bionic Arabist raises a fair point here. Having spent a year in Beirut, I can definitely say that it is quite easy to get carried away with the ideas and passions running not only around one’s host country, but around the region. It’s easy to get caught up in them, and to want to espouse them, or participate in their formation and evolution in a society. But at the end of the day, its simply not the same for us. We have to put ourselves at a distance from those we come to love and care about there. As much as I hate to say it, we live different lives. We can always return home. But its simply not the same for them. They have nothing else but to cope with the reality they face in their own countries. Wherever the problems come from – the political, social, or economic situation. It’s not our problem to fix, its theirs. Though we cannot deny some culpability, perhaps, in the reality they currently face. But it is not up to us to determine the outcome of their situation. Of course, this does not mean that we cannot help. Personally, I would stay, as I would have in Lebanon if some potentially terrible situation would have evolved that placed foreigners living in the country at a risk. The one thing we can do is to document what is going on, to make our own citizens and leaders aware so that they might make informed decisions in our policy. If I had a choice between braving a revolution that was not my own, or suffering through an epic New England snowstorm, well, I’d choose the former.

I don’t think I’m the only one, either in Cairo or at a keyboard back in America, who feels the urge to be a part of someone else’s revolution because of that thrill. Even if I’m not participating, just being here is exciting. I won’t lie and pretend there’s no vicarious thrill to this. Bumming around Cairo, hunting for fresh vegetables, hanging out with neighborhood watch guys, speculating about when Mubarak will give up and go away, passing the time with other nervous expats while the streets take on a carnival atmosphere – ok, a carnival with tanks, but still, it’s an adventure. I have front row seats for history.

But there are people back home who are worried about me, and the excitement isn’t worth the possibility that the phones could go down again and they’d have no way to contact me. I’m a selfish only child, but not that selfish. So I’m going. I hope I can come back soon, under a new and better regime.

Yeah, regrettably he’s right.

Other Links of Interest:

A rare Wall Street Journal interview with Syria’s President – Bashar al-Assad

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