Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt: Somebody explain to me why I feel British Empire Guilt when I wasn't even born?

Saturday night I got a text from a friend who was drunk at a bar downtown, and upset the bartender wouldn't give him a free drink for being Egyptian. Later he sent me a text where he misspelled Ana Masry. "The place I've always considered home is burning. I'll get herpes from whatever tramp I want!"

I spent most of this weekend reading twitter feeds and Al Jazeera and any other information that came streaming across the social media network. I thought to myself, there's just no way I can understand this fully. There's so much going on. And I tried to wrap my head around it, to know the names and the significances. I thought I was a failure, until I had conversations with other people who knew far less than me. But that doesn't make me feel better, only sadder that we are all just trying to play catch up because none of us knew the history before this. Except my friend of course, whose family over there is scared the government will fall and the Muslim Brotherhood will come into power through the elections, because they are Christian. That's the other perspective, right? Not from Fox News, not from a covering their tracks government, but a real thing, how real citizens also feel.

And listen, right, I got so many emails from people who tell me I have to spread around how secular the revolution is, and yes I believe it is, but it's never the young people who hold the power after the revolutions. It's the young people with the good intentions and the fire and the verve who start them. But it's the political parties who make the changes later. Its the old men, who have been planning for a while. I have nothing against the old men, inherently. Just, it disappoints me that even now, at this age, I can find myself sucked into the cry for revolution without clear analysis, that the part of me who wanted to scream in high school for communists and feminists and sweat shop workers is still on speed dial. I support all those things, I support these protesters, but when do I get old enough where I do my research before getting indignant? Rather than having to quickly backtrack and make sure. I want to keep the fire in my belly, but I want more control over it. I want to look through the emotional things, keep them somewhere safe and useful, but see also the whole picture, the reality of things. I just want to know.

Image from Sherif9282

Not that it isn't needed. I've done my backtracking and I'm sure. Of course it's needed. It goes beyond needed to this thing that is a given, an expectation. You can't freeze power in place for that long, first of all. Power is an organic thing, a naturally violent thing, and regardless of political or religious beliefs, power will turn against you if you try to keep it on a leash for too long. It requires blood and anger to live. And maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself, because the automatic response of "a country should be what that country determines it wants to be" is something my parents got right in me.

Still, the hardest part, the part I want to capture here, is what it feels like to be a liberal white woman, in a prosperous and stable country, who's never had to deal with revolutions or emergency martial law or even seen a working tank in person, to try and understand and feel and keep up on these events which are so important. To want to be educated on them, and to feel like the media is a vast awful puzzle I have to navigate and double check and be sure of. To want to see every angle, and to only get the feeds.

But there's where Twitter becomes a vital part of revolutions. First of all, it has become a thing that the people in power can no longer hide an uprising. First rule now: turn off the social media feeds. First consequence: everyone in the world will automatically know you have done that. You can't get by silently squashing stories in the media anymore, doing quick and quiet raids on newspapers, arresting tiny cells of dissenters. The minute you turn off Twitter, that thing that is better than anything else at getting people to one place all together, then anyone following them on twitter knows. And within minutes the story of your uprising is out there. Me, sitting at my work computer, in Ohio buried under snow, I know within minutes. I look forward to reading the inevitable book someone is working on right now about the role of social media in political revolutions.

Last night, a group of friends and I sat around and played a game about money. That's what we do here in the United States - we make expensive foods, drink wine, and play games about investing money in foreclosed homes, while we sit in our lovely safe houses and listen to music we share for free, and the girls wear low cut shirts and talk about being doctors and birth control, and in the middle of winter in a cold land, we are the extremely lucky ones. And if I was in Egypt right now I would be spending the night on a street with thousands of other people, surrounded by watchful men with guns.

It is dissonance in my head, trying to exist in one and understand the other at the same time. I wonder if it is an impossible task, if like learning a language, you never really get it until you've been in that land. Like, I can talk your ear off now, about the political players involved, and what's happened this last hour, the possible outcomes, and the resonance for Israel and the Region, but I'm just really echoing the words of other people I've read. I want a personal experience for this, and it turns out my personal experience is of being "that American girl". So unsatisfactory.

Image from a Reddit user in Egypt, on a digital camera.

This is a picture someone took on their phone, from their cab. It may turn out to be the next Tiananmen Square Tank Man.

This is a picture of the gummy bear ravioli that was made last night.

Image from

But I hope they stick it out for something more than some cabinet changes. I hope they get to be whoever they want to be.


  1. Because you benefit from the privileges associated with being a white descendant of the British Empire, with the economic & social advantages that entails?

  2. I think it's because I enjoy Agatha Christie so much.

  3. I've struggled with these same thoughts. SubWow posted on something similar back in December. The world is too big for us to hold in our heads, and understand everything. (Occams razor yada-yada-yada) The heart though is bottomless. Open it as you have, and it will always have room for more.

  4. I believe that my head can work that way too. I believe I'm just not trying hard enough.

    My heart, though, has a self imposed limit for the sake of productivity.

  5. It just all makes me sick and confused and ....feeling impotent. I don't have the words for it yet, but reading that helped, pookie. Except for the part where I vurped at the picture of the gummy bear ravioli.

  6. Impotent is a good word for it. Like my only useful thing here is a collector of words, and we are without action.

    Vurp is a good word too.

  7. As important as this subject is, I found it interesting that the word "hate" didn't appear in your post or any of the comments. Intersting, juxtaposed to your most recent post.

  8. Bill - hate is not a constant you know. It's just a thing you break out once in a while to get the blood pumping. Then you put it safely back in the lockbox when you're done. I would never apply it to anything important. Well, except the airport thing. I was serious about that.

  9. Excellent! I love smart people.

  10. I don't think any uprising really changes much in the short term. In Egypt it seems as it they are trading in one form of oppression for the next... something they have been doing since they overthrew the Empire...

    That is why even with the young starting and doing the heavy lifting in revolutions, it is always the old men who take charge when the dust settles and the smoke clears...


Who wants to fuck the Editors?