Yesterday the Egyptian military granted itself sweeping powers and dissolved the parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Should we be surprised?
Those who believed that "democracy" would rise from Tahir Square got to hold elections.
The "liberal" favorite of most of the young, Hamdeen Sabahi, came in third and was eliminated from the run-off election which turned out to be between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military’s choice. The liberals stayed home as they had no one for whom to vote. They never had enough votes anyway.
With the likely victory going to the Brotherhood candidate, the military stepped in and essentially voided the election posing as guardians of the secular state.
Egyptians were left with a choice of potential theocracy and continued military rule.
The situation is similar to that in Libya and will probably develop in Syria when Assad steps down.
Did the military do wrong? I mean, if the Muslim Brotherhood is what the majority wants and can legitimately be elected, should it not be allowed to take power?
Or do you believe the Brotherhood would install Sharia Law and begin years of religious oppression against women and Copts? And is that really our business?
When I was a kid one of the essay questions in junior high school (when kids got an education!) was "Should communists be allowed to run for high office?" - it being understood that if they won they would do everything in their power to bring about the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat".
Meanwhile troops are stationed in front of the Egyptian Parliament with orders to bar any members from entering. Further, the military has stated that there will be no new elections until after the approval of a new Constitution.
During the mid-90s I would spend a month or five weeks working in Cairo and Alexandria each year, The company had several operations in Egypt and I would hole up at the Marriot on Zemalek and walk to work each morning.
The local company was run by an American ex-pat living in a nice villa in one of Cairo’s better areas. Walls. Street patrols. Gardeners.
The Egyptian staff were mostly a middle-class college educated mixture of Muslims and Copts. I had a chance to meet many of them socially at their homes and apartments.
One Muslim was married to an Italian Catholic woman who cooked me a great Italian meal while we laughed over stories of their respective families going ape shit over their pending marriage. Solution was two weddings - one in Italy and one in Egypt.
More than one Coptic employee swore to me privately that the Copts were the REAL Egyptians - descendants of those who built the pyramids. All the others were foreign invaders.
One common trait I noticed among all Egyptians I met was a certain fatalism. Fatalism is almost part of Egyptian DNA. Nothing in Egypt ever changes and nothing would change.
As an American I found such attitudes disturbing. Americans believe things can get better. We can make them better. We will not only survive hard times; we will come out of hard times stronger and better than before. We as a people have never subscribed to the belief that a situation is hopeless.
Well one week I had to visit our office in Alexandria. I was making a special trip to meet the company’s lawyer who handled all our legal work. Let’s call him Sounussi.
There was a company car and driver of course but Toritto decided to ride the bus. The staff thought I was crazy but take the bus I did along the desert road to Alexandria. I felt like I was in a classic Mediterranean city. I could have been in Naples.
Sounussi was close to seventy years old. Slender and well dressed he was the consummate well connected successful Egyptian. And he had lived through it all.
Over lunch at a beautiful waterfront restaurant we talked our business and then talked of Egypt.
He was old enough to have been a young teen during World War II. He lived under King Farouk and was in his late twenties when General Naguib and then Gamal Nasser came to power.
"Times were not so bad under Farouk. He was a bit self-indulgent but he was not deposed by the people. There were no mobs in the streets demanding he abdicate". Sounussi was certain the CIA supported the military coup. He was sure it could not have happened without tacit US approval.
The generals have ruled Egypt ever since. First Nasser, then his acolyte Sadat and then his protege Mubarak. Nothing has changed. "Like the pyramids" Sounussi said, "Or the Nile".
Egypt had not been independent for over 1,900 years. It had gone from Pharoahs to foreign rulers to Kings and now the military was in charge.
The military have their fingers in everything that is manufactured in Egypt. Every senior and mid-ranking military officer was hand picked by Mubarak and all owed him their careers. They too live in fine villas with drivers and servants paid for by the U.S.
Egypt had "elections" but everyone knew who was going to win. Only candidates from the President’s party could run anyway. No other political parties were permitted.
Then came Tahir Square.
There has been a "State of Emergency" for longer than most Egyptians in the square have been alive. Speak out against the government and you were arrested, held without charges or worse. There was no Egyptian free press.
Sounussi was a fatalist. He had lived long enough to see the hopes and aspirations of the 1950s fade away into the Egyptian eternity. So he did the best he could do. He lived within the constraints of the system. He survived and prospered.
The young people in the square were not yet fatalists. They have aspirations and with the social connections to the outside world they know it doesn’t have to be like this. They are wary of the current government simply playing musical chairs - and nothing changing.
But they had no leaders or organizations that could speak for them.
And it has come down to this again - the "choice" between the possibility of an oppressive religious theocracy run by clerics or continued military rule.
There is no charismatic faceless Egyptian - someone the young can rally behind. An unknown; a Sounussi who has seen it all shaking off his fatalism, speaking for them and saying "Enough! In the name of God will you please go!" Besides, there are not enough "liberal" votes anyway.
Sounussi and I left the restaurant talking of Egypt, Israel and wars.
"Was Alexandria bombed during the Six Day War?" asks Toritto
"Oh Toritto my friend! The last time Alexandria was bombed it was the Italians!"