Egypt 101: Blood from a Stone

Physical map of Egypt

Physical map of Egypt

Egypt is among the world’s most densely populated countries.  This is not always immediately discernable through statistical analysis because the area included in the borders of the country are quite large, encompassing some 995,450 square kilometers. But if you look at a physical map of Egypt, like the one above, most of the landmass is covered by the scorched earth of the Sahara Desert. This vast expanse is gashed by the green Nile Valley—which opens at Cairo to fan out across the Delta to the Mediterranean Sea.  The vast majority of the country lives in this fertile escape from the desert— a cultivated area of some 6 million acres, or about 5 percent of the total land mass.[1]

For some 5,000 years of human history, highly-centralized states have manipulated the water that flows from this gash to control massive amounts of people and resources. But when deranged dictators get a taste for power, they are rarely satisfied until they engorge themselves. So from this gash has flown not only the life-giving waters of the Nile, but also the blood of the Egyptian people.When blood is allowed to fester over an open wound, a scab forms. And if a deep cut goes without proper treatment, the injury will never heal.

For roughly the past sixty years, a certain pattern of leeching has emerged. Political dissidents were rounded up and systematically tortured. Private enterprise was stymied in the name of keeping supply lines open. Education was ossified and creativity was discouraged. Major national media outlets–along with the film and radio industries for a time–were nationalized. Income from natural resources was centralized and massive corruption kept the benefits from being felt by the people on the ground. Subtly and from various different corners of the nation, the blood seeped forth to stain the edges of the military uniforms worn by the past three leaders of Egypt. It was allowed to calcify into the scab of the old regime.

In 2011, the scab was ripped off. I am shocked by the massive change in the political culture of Cairo, as compared to my stay here in 2008. Back then, we started a facebook event at AUC to talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The creator of the page was contacted by AUC officials, reportedly at the request of the government, and told to delete the event page and cancel the discussion.

Today, everyone is talking about politics. Everywhere. Private media companies formed just prior to or after the revolution, like  ON TV, CBC, and Dream have popped up on satellite television and adopted the 24-hour news model we have grown accustomed to the United States. Many taxi drivers and assemblies of men in coffe shops turn to politics and discuss it with impressive knowledge and enthusiasm. When demonstrations in Tahrir square are at their best, they are peaceful gatherings of people have intelligent discussions about politics, and educating others who are there to listen and learn.

But demonstrations in Tahrir are not always peaceful. 2,000 Egyptians have died across the country, including those martyred in the demonstrations, victims of mob violence, and the victims of the Port Said incident. The scab has been ripped off, and a number of forces are trying to assert themselves in this relative power vacuum. Eventually, one force–or a combination of forces–will be successful. The question that remains to be seen is: will this emergent system continue to bleed the Egyptian people?

In the coming posts, I will do my best to cover the major forces that exist in the country now, and their attempts to assert themselves in the new political process. These forces are: The Army, The Muslim Brotherhood (which has a majority in the fledgling parliament and is fielding a candidate for President in the run-off elections next week), The Judiciary, and the Revolutionaries who occupy Tahrir square (and similar squares in major cities throughout Egypt) and take to the streets in marches for a dizzying variety of causes with a differing level of turnout and a different character from day-to-day and night-to-night.  Caught in the middle of all of this is the 80-or-so million people of Egypt, who are trying to make sense of the new country in which they live as they go to work and cook their meals every day.


[1]  Taken from Confidential US State Department Central Files internal affairs: Egypt 1950-1954 (CUSSDCFE) 874.00/2-651; 6,000,000 feddans = 2,400,000 hectares; 1,001,400 square km = 100,140,000 hectares

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3 thoughts on “Egypt 101: Blood from a Stone

  1. Pingback: How did Ahmad Shafiq Succeed in the Egyptian Elections? | Kyle J. Anderson

  2. Pingback: On the History of Egypt’s Constitutional Transition | Kyle J. Anderson

  3. Pingback: Happy 2nd Birthday, Egyptian Revolution! | Kyle J. Anderson

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