Behind a shed of an office building, on a dirt lot in Cairo, a dark and road weary bus idles noisily, as a hog-tied, bleating goat is carried down the aisle to the back, where others sit with caged chickens. But a stranger walking by wouldn’t hear any of it. Like most third world capitals, the volume in that city is as over-amped as their lights. You cannot find the stars, nor the quiet, until you find the desert.
This is all from a twenty year old memory, but the soul of the old Arab Republic is as endless as its souk. Forget about the dust, the pyramids and the antiquities. What is going on in Egypt now, is the people who carry goats on buses are tired of being the goat, and they’re tired of not being heard.
They have an awareness of their history, and inasmuch as that informs their spirituality and patience, it also informs their pride. On the trip from Israel down the eastern side of the Sinai Peninsula, from Eilat to Sharm-el-Shaikh, one Egyptian, when informed that the last time one of the travelers was in this place, it was under Israeli control, quipped, “Yes. But now it’s better, because it’s ours.”
Personal frustrations become political ones. Hunger and poverty become elements of disenfranchisement, and carefully controlled elections become a political prison.
Like most rebellions, though, it’s not that simple, especially in that part of the world. As the rioting continues, it becomes less important who has taken to the streets and why, and what becomes more important is who fills the poltical void, when it becomes obvious that the government will not stand.
“The regime in Egypt is quite an authoritarian regime,” Farideh Naghash, editor of a Cairo newspaper, told Radio Free Europe in an interview, Saturday, “and that’s why people still now ask for the resignation of President Mubarak.”
He added that steps the embattled president has taken are not sufficient because, “What we need now sharply is a political solution…a political approach, which must be based on real and radical changes.”
But with Hosni Mubarak being unwilling to step down, and with his forced departure causing what Naghash believes would be a “vacuum in the political sphere,” the solution challenges not only Egypt, but US interests as well.
On the practical side, if there is a practical side, the US State Department today called for “a meaningful process to foster real reform,” according to a statement from State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.
But, as Politico‘s Ben Smith and Laura Rozen point out:
“Obama’s pressure on Mubarak, and the fact that defenses of Mubarak and the ‘stability’ he brings the region from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden earlier in the week haven’t been repeated, have led many observers to conclude that the administration is readying for the end of the Mubarak era.”
That’s not to say stability is no longer important. It means that the US administration no longer believes Mubarak is the one to provide it, and remain in power. “Of course, the demonstrators support a transition government that can change the constitution and arrange new elections if he leaves,” says Naghash, “but he didn’t leave, and he will not leave.”
If he were to leave, though, he would fly over the desert, where even Egypt’s proudest legacies lie buried, quietly, beneath the blowing sands.