Haven’t forgotten about part two of that top ten list from last week, but I decided to put it off a few extra days so that I could say a few words about something more important, something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, but I just haven’t really understood enough to know what to say and do it any justice. But a few people have asked, and so I wanted to devote a blog to the revolution that’s popping up all over the place here in North Africa and especially Egypt. In fact, as I write this right now, there are a few Moroccans hovered over a computer screen watching the celebrations taking place in Egypt now that Mubarak has finally decided to leave. It’s big news here.
Let me start by saying that I’m almost completely unschooled on the history that’s lead up to this moment. I know little about the politics surrounding Egypt; I don’t fully comprehend what’s happening or why it’s happening (not sure many people do). For that reason, I have no interest in commenting on the details about a complex socio-political situation I know little about that’s been emerging in this part of the world. And truth be told, if you wanted to get all that information, you’d go to CNN or refer to a political scientist or a historian).
But because I’m living relatively close to all of this, I’ve been afforded a strange bird’s eye view of this revolution, and that strange view is what I want to talk about.
So, while I won’t give you a history lesson, I do want to at least tell you how I’ve encountered what’s been happening and update anyone who has missed the news of late. A few weeks ago now, there was a man in Tunisia who, in protest of how he felt his government had treated the people there, set himself on fire. A few protests and riots later, and the leader of Tunisia fled his country setting in motion the prospects of a would-be democracy overnight.
Of course, that’s an incredible oversimplification of what actually happened, and this is no bed-time story. What sounds like a happy ending has become a story whose ending continuously unfolds and remains vague at best, because the situation in Tunisia has taken a backseat in the mainstream media to the fact that the situation in Egypt suddenly and unexpectedly exploded and has consumed all news. But the point is this: what happened in Tunisia set off revolution in multiple countries like wildfire, including Algeria, Egypt, and – though one would hardly call it “revolution” – the King of Jordan recently dismissed his government in effort to put out the fire before it overtook his country, as well. There’s lots more to say; it doesn’t stop there. But let’s keep it simple. This is just a blog, after all.
Now, every country is different, and each of these situations are complex beyond everything I’m describing, but what has fascinated me the most about this entire string of revolutions is that, as my friend Avery put it, there’s no clear ideological motivation behind what’s happening. In Egypt in particular, the people had one goal (a goal they achieved today), and it’s not religious or economic. It’s just, plain and simple: they wanted their President, Mubarak, gone. They just wanted change.
In fact, the group behind the protests, the Muslim Brotherhood, has no interest in taking power. They’re like Maximus in Gladiator; they’ll fight the Emperor, but once he’s gone, and Rome is again in the hands of the people, their job is done. Or that’s what they’ve been saying, anyway. Now, that the tide has turn, and Mubarak is gone, the real question quickly becomes, “What’s next,” and personally, I can’t help but wonder myself how giving the power to the military is helpful to the people of Egypt. I suspect this is not over yet, even if the primary goal has been achieved.
But whatever. All of that – in case you weren’t up-to-date on what’s been happening leads me to my next point – what’s it got to do with me?
Well, nothing, is the short answer, but the longer answer is that what’s happening in Egypt is, in some ways, something I’m constantly aware of and had become or remains part of my everyday life. Case in point, I was at my favorite food shop (l-hanut) a week ago here in Mos where I buy my red ball cheese. There’s a TV there that usually plays nothing but soccer, but on this particular day, this was showing instead:
That’s right, they paused the protests to pray. So, I’m watching this, and I look at the owner whose eyes are glued to the TV, and I say (literally translated), “This thing in Egypt is crazy, yeah? Has the president left?” He responds, “No, not yet. His head is thick.”
In nearly every encounter I have with this constant footage and the conversations I have with Moroccans about this situation, there are two things that keep being pointed out to me:
1) “It’s crazy.” I can’t tell you how many people have used the word “crazy” to describe what they’re seeing. It’s been unfathomable. It’s been upsetting (seeing the violence, knowing that people have been getting hurt). It’s been exciting. It’s… crazy. A friend here was telling me recently about a proverb that literally translates from Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic), “The catastrophes of some people are beneficial to others.” When I first heard that (applied to this revolution), I thought of Machiavelli, where one evil ruler benefits from the tragedy of others. Don’t think of it like that. Think of it as meaning something more along the lines of, “Something good can always come from what’s bad.” That is, that there was ever a need for revolution and the lives it always costs was seen as unfortunate to most Moroccans, as far as I could tell, but in time, everyone seems to agree that something good will grow out of this, and maybe – today – that happened. In fact, here in my site, a string of cars honked their horns, flashing their lights as the news had been announced that Mubarak had finally left.
So, maybe, something good can always come from what’s unfortunate. But isn’t that true of every aspect of our lives, every struggle and strife we face? I think about what brought me here to Morocco – the struggles I faced this time last year between rejections and my grandfather passing away. But now, there’s a part of me that’s thankful, in a funny way, for the moments in my life – as hard as they were – that brought me here to this place. If only we could enter every struggle able to see that good could or would come of it. Eventually, we’d have nothing to fear. It’s something I’ve talked about on the blog in many posts, but to realize it’s deeply embedded into every aspect of our lives, from the individual to the societal, is huge for me – that some aspects of human nature are so huge that they can apply not only to our unique experience but to a collective, unified experience across cultures and across traditions. Today, we rejoice for Egypt, because we understand something about what they have faced, something that stretches as far back to our identity as the American Revolution itself and is as common to us as rejoicing in hindsight for where all our daily struggles have lead us – to hopefully being a better people altogether. And so “making lemonade out of lemons” (or however we want to put it) it something that stretches across every language, every religion, every facet of human experience.
2) “It couldn’t happen here. I don’t think.” This revolution has spread across the Middle East and North Africa. One question I just couldn’t fathom was, “Why does quiet, little Morocco truck on like this isn’t happening? Why no revolution here? I posted an article not long ago that I think mostly answers that question (scroll down to see; I’m not linking it). It talks, largely, about the fact that, across the board, Morocco is picking up the ball economically, and people are seeing their livelihoods improve in this country. Reform is a part of everyday life here, because the King (Mohammed VI) has made it his every effort and goal to work hard for the benefit of his people to improve every aspect of their life. So, the answer to the question is – oversimplified (because there are always some people who aren’t happy or whose situation has been worsened by nearly any government) – the people of Morocco are, generally, happier here than most other nearby countries in the “Arab world.”
But that leads me to another point altogether. What the heck is the “Arab world”? We use that phrase back home to imply a race or suggest a group of countries where Islam is the reigning, dominant religion, but this notion that there is such a thing that we can conveniently name, label, and categorize as “Arab” is, in my opinion, misleading and false. It’s like calling America the “White World” and then somehow lumping Canada in there with it (as though it wasn’t already wrong to describe America that way). I mean, Canada is just a wannabe version of America, right? And most of America is white, right? Wrong. And such a notion is an offensive idea (or should be) to multiple races and, in this case, religions and nationalities. Canada has its own cultures and traditions. They are different from those of America. The so-called “Arab World” is the same way. Morocco is not Egypt; Egypt is not Tunisia; Tunisia is not Algeria, etc. etc. etc. They each have their own stories, their own histories, their own struggles and their own triumphs. Let’s not “whitewash” all of that away by lumping them all together by a race or a religion.
We want so badly in this world, even if only for the sake of convenience, to categorize and label our ideals and stereotype people with them. That’s a huge struggle for me, in fact, because part of my job (Goal 3) is to share the culture of Morocco with the American people, but doing so forces me to make generalizations about Morocco that are not always right or that are unique only to my experience. What my friends on the other side of the country (or perhaps even just an hour up the road) experience may be an entirely different picture of Morocco. Or how my female friends experience the country is, certainly, an entirely different experience than the one I’m having. Still, the world just isn’t so simple that we can fairly label and categorize each other, so when we can, we need to make every effort to avoid doing that, or at least make a point to say that we realize we’re committing that error.
I’m not sure how we go about that exactly, especially as someone guilty of making that mistake often. But maybe one first step we all need to take is to simply try to let our complexities be what they are – instead of needing to figure out how we’re all different or how we’re all the same. We need to stop worrying about either of those approaches and just… be. Maybe if we did, there’d never be any need for revolutions after all, but since there is, Mbruk to the people of Egypt. You are free. Stay that way.