Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

THE 4TH AND ISAAC NEWTON

Yesterday, July 4th, brought to mind Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This thought emanated from reasons historical, personal and contemporary.

On July 4, 1776—or close to that date depending on which historian you read—the American Colonies reacted in equal and opposite measure to such British practices as taxation without representation. The Continental Congress announced that Americans would represent themselves to their own government. If they paid taxes—not a popular thought—they’d at least pay themselves.

Human nature being imperfect—the Preamble to the Constitution expresses the desire to form a more perfect union—fulfilling the American Dream has required ongoing employment of the Third Law of Motion. Freedom in the U.S.A. did not instantly translate to freedom for all. Yet every hypocritical act of repression spawned an equal and opposite reaction. Thus in 1826 Maryland, founded to protect Catholics, finally passed the “Jew Bill” granting Jews the right to sit as members of the state assembly. In 1865, the 13th Amendment banned slavery, although securing equal rights for African Americans took another century to enshrine into comprehensive law and subsequent efforts to put into practice. Women didn’t achieve suffrage until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

For gay men, a lesbians and transgender folks, the struggle continues. But we’ve come a long way. Carolyn and I celebrated with our son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy when they married last August in Vermont. Last Sunday, we marched with PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—in San Francisco’s Pride parade.

Which brings us to Newton’s Law beyond our shores. In Turkey, massive protests constitute an equal and opposite reaction to a democratically elected government cramming Islamic law down people’s throats. Ankara responds with its own “equal and opposite reaction.” Besir Atalay, one of four deputy prime ministers, pointed the usual finger at outside agitators—including “the Jewish Diaspora.”

In Egypt, a “soft coup” removed President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Egyptians developed their own equal and opposite reaction to the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak by deposing him. Secularists led the way then saw their efforts undermined by the nation’s one highly organized civilian group, the Brotherhood. Many Egyptians boycotted the election won by Morsi. After a year of Islamist power grabs and an economy descending from (very) bad to (much) worse, massive protests created another equal and opposite reaction. The military stepped in to avoid chaos. Another reaction, if not quite equal, already has spawned violence as the Brotherhood protests.

It’s anyone’s guess what further reactions await in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly Iran under a new, more “liberal” president.

Fortunately, every attempt to establish authoritarianism prompts men and women to react in opposition. Their efforts are fraught with danger. When they manage to create a new government, the flame of freedom remains fragile. But the spark never dies.

May those people and parties who seek to impose narrow, rigid systems with an iron fist give more thought to a brilliant man whose contributions to physics also reveal much about politics and human nature.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

TIME TO HIDE?

This could be my last post for a while. I may have to go into hiding. Because powerful forces are seeking to hunt down and destroy those of us who satirize them. Witness Wednesday’s report in “The Daily Currant” (dailycurrant.com) of Egypt’s arrest order for Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.”

Well, maybe that’s a stretch. “The Daily Currant” is a satirical news blog. And what could be sillier than Cairo seeking to arrest Jon Stewart just because he prompts some major laughs at the expense of hypocrites? Unless it’s Cairo arresting the Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef for poking fun at Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi. And that’s no joke.

Youssef believes that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are not all they would like Egyptians—and the world—to believe. So the government—Morsi disclaimed responsibility—arrested Youssef a week ago then released him as the world media shone a bright light into a dark hole. Nonetheless, Cairo threatens to withdraw the license of his TV channel. Its response resembles that of Seinfeld’s fabled Soup Nazi: “No freedom for you!”

I could be next. My novel Slick! points a big finger at the hypocrisy of Arab politicians who rule—or seek to rule—in the name of God. (For grins I skewer Washington, too.) Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood wants to go after Jon Stewart and me in tandem—two Jews daring to say that something’s not kosher in the Arab world. And that goes beyond Egypt.

A week ago, a Palestinian Authority court upheld a one-year prison sentence handed down to the journalist Mamdouh Hamamreh for posting a photo on Facebook likening P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas to a villain on a popular Syrian TV show. The P.A. then thought better of its stupidity and released Hamamreh.

Laughter indeed is serious business. Poke fun at a powerful figure in the Middle East—or at someone like Russian president Vladimir Putin (which I’ve done)—and you take your life in your hands. Morally corrupt leaders fear one thing above all: being turned into a punch line. Incredibly, they make it so easy.

People repeatedly ask me, “How do you come up with so many ideas for novels?” My answer is simple. “Every morning, I wake up.” Each day, a malevolent despot, despot wannabe, religious leader or corporate tycoon models the foolish emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” He’s the character whose vanity blinds him to the fact that he’s parading stark naked in front of his subjects—themselves willing believers. It takes an innocent young boy to reveal the truth.

Of course, satire isn’t the only weapon against hypocrisy. Drama does a fine job. Netflix’ original series “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey offers a nasty condemnation of Washington politicians. Yet no one (publicly at least) has suggested banning the show or arresting its creators. We have the First Amendment. Also, a hint of legal action would spur more people to sign up for Netflix and watch the show.

Still, satire remains my weapon of choice. Because the smallest barb of humor often cuts more deeply than the sword.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

MR. MORSI

Egypt as a nation predates the United States by millennia. But when Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi lectures the U.S., he conveniently forgets that Egypt as a democracy is an infant.

A week ago, Morsi told The New York Times that the U.S. should show greater respect for Arab values. “If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment,” he said. “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”

Morsi seconded what I wrote in “A Misleading Question” (September 14). A cultural gap exists. Take the matter of women. Morsi told The Times, “I will not prevent a woman from being nominated as a candidate for the presidential campaign. This is not in the Constitution. This is not in the law. But if you want to ask me if I will vote for her or not, that is something else, that is different.”

That Mr. Morsi believes women should not play a major role in affairs of state—what message does that deliver to Hillary Clinton?—is his business. That he believes that America and the West are filled with licentiousness also is his business. And to a great degree he’s right. But Morsi’s claims to moral superiority don’t hold water.

A September 20 article in The Jerusalem Post reported on Egyptian women calling on President Morsi to halt increasing incidents of sexual harassment. “According to a 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, street harassment is shockingly commonplace, with 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women reporting incidents.” In February 2011, CBS TV news reporter Lara Logan was sexually attacked by a Cairo mob as other Egyptians protested for freedom in Tahrir Square. The abuse of women in the Greater Middle East is well documented.

When Morsi laments the inability of world organizations to stop the violence in Syria—he agrees that Bashar al Assad must go—he again makes a valid point. But he overlooks the inability of the Arab world—and Egypt—to police itself. Christian Copts are now fleeing Rafah, which borders Gaza, in the face of Islamist threats. Similarly, when Morsi suggests that Washington accept Egyptian values, he offers a pragmatic approach to two-party relations. But when he denies the validity of Western approaches to free speech, as he did at the UN on Wednesday, he plays to Islamists and places obstacles between Egypt and the West. I hope he read Tom Friedman’s column, “Backlash to the Backlash”. Friedman offers Arab voices calling for a major reality check—on the part of Arab leaders.

A healthy U.S.–Egypt relationship will take time. And humility. And a realization that ultimately, this isn’t about us. As Tunisian president Mocef Marzouki writes in today’s Times, “The Arab revolutions have not turned anti-Western. Nor are they pro-Western. They are simply not about the West.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Morsi would be well advised to acknowledge that when it comes to making democracy work, ancient Egypt is the new kid on the block—and barely at the toddler stage.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

A MISLEADING QUESTION

Yesterday’s Opinion Pages in The New York Times asked, “Can the United States stay engaged with modern democratic Middle Eastern countries that have sizable anti-Western populations?” The answers by the chosen debaters were reasonable. The question was misleading.

Modern democratic Middle Eastern countries don’t exist—with the exception of Israel. Now let’s be clear: Millions of people in the region want their nations to move into the category of “modern democracy.” But millions more don’t share that desire. The recent attacks on American embassies in Egypt and Yemen—and the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya—reflect real differences with the modern democratic West that can’t be papered over. Kings? In the Middle East, they rule as well as reign. Ayatollahs? They run Iran. Autocrats? Syria’s makes headlines daily. Elected presidents? Yes, even those—but men ruling over fractured states where the rule of law has yet to be established let alone extended to all citizens.

Emotions in the U.S. are raw now. That’s understandable. So it’s time for a reality check, which I’ve reduced to three salient points (although I welcome you to add more).

1. Societies in the Middle East really do have different worldviews. Take free speech. In the U.S., we cherish it. Sometimes we abuse it, but still we uphold it even when we fault the abusers. The Middle East? Someone—not Washington—made a hateful film about Muhammad. Most Americans condemn and dismiss it. Egyptians and Yemenis stormed our embassies. Sudanese forced their way into the German embassy. In Tripoli, Lebanon, one person has been killed in a protest. These stories are still unfolding. Political dissenters? I can yell “Screw Obama!” ‘til the cows come home. In the Middle East, dissenters face intimidation, imprisonment or death. Iranians and Syrians, among others, can tell you.

2. American power to foster change is limited. (Read Slick! for a satirical take on that.) The world is not a machine that can be repaired by a competent mechanic. In part, our options are restricted precisely because the Middle East is not like us. What we believe to be rational, progressive arguments often fall on deaf ears. Moreover, we’re condemned when we don’t step in (Egypt) and reviled after we do (Libya). Does anyone really want to send U.S. troops into Damascus?

3. The Middle East will remain a political and religious powder keg for a long, long time. Europe experienced centuries of bloodletting before achieving peace. The horrors of World War Two and the Holocaust are less than seven decades behind us. In the Middle East, the forces of Islamism (by which I mean theocratic dictatorship, not Islam) battle those seeking modernity, with or without a Muslim flair. Add to that Islamists battling among themselves. And stir in age-old clan, tribal and ethnic animosities. Can you say “Iraq?” With prudence, we can contain the fire. But only the people of the region can extinguish it.

Should we then turn our backs on the Middle East? No. The world is far too interconnected. Moreover, those of us who support Israel’s right to exist cannot risk a second Holocaust through disengagement. Let’s hope those in power or seeking power in Washington will adopt both perspective and patience. Because as we also saw this past week, a shot from the hip often lands in the foot.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.