Egyptomania; Or, Independence Day

July 3rd Fireworks in Cairo

As we gear up for the fireworks on July 4th that celebrate American Independence from England, it is hard not to watch the millions of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as they add another chapter to their own recent revolutionary history. This revolution began with the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, part of what the media insisted on calling “The Arab Spring” in 2011. Since that rather romantic fit of democracy, idealistic Americans may have thought that this was just another step toward a more democratic and just Middle East, and that maybe it would spread.

But then came Syria, and President Barack Obama’s ostensible ignoring of the mass killings in that country tell us something about our inability to cope with the reality that the freedom Americans take for granted is simply not even on the radar of many leaders in the rest of the world.  President Obama mumbles tepid statements of disapproval, but they are diluted with ramblings about global warming and expensive African trips in which no one listens to him. And after one hundred million dollars in travel costs, he leaves without a trace, unless you count the carbon footprints of all those in the Air Force One traveling entourage.  Even my most liberal European friends, all of whom were so supportive of candidate Obama when he first ran for office, dismiss him now as completely irrelevant in international affairs.  He may speak in the declarative sentences of a junior senator, but no one seems to be listening to him anyway.  This is significant as he is still, if only by default, the main speaker for democracy and freedom in the world. Yet his stage seems to be a diminished thing. Continue reading