Saturday, November 21, 2009

Things seem to have settled down here in Cairo. There're no new reports of chanting mobs. I was chatting with Marise about the whole debacle last night and we concluded that, with pieces like the one in the New York Times by Michael Slackman misrepresenting the source of many Egyptians' outrage, Egypt was in some small way, not getting a fair shake. While some of the protesters were without a doubt mere soccer hooligans, other people who have protested more civilly truly believed that Egyptians were being harmed abroad. The Egyptian media, Facebookers, and YouTubers exaggerated accounts of violence against Egyptians in Sudan and Algeria and convinced Egyptians moreover that the Sudanese and Algerian governments were complicit or at best, not doing enough to protect Egyptian nationals. That claims of serious injury have not been substantiated is immaterial. The fact is, Egyptians were led to believe that their conationals were being harmed and left unprotected by governments with whom Egypt has complex and sometimes troubled relations. This isn't just about people whining over a soccer match, at least not for everyone.
Still others (and perhaps this group includes the soccer hooligans) have turned this into an issue of honor. According to the BBC, the Egyptian president said "Egypt does not tolerate those who hurt the dignity of its sons" while his normally media-shy son Ala' said in an interview that "When you insult my dignity ... I will beat you on the head". While I can appreciate protesting civily in solidarity with physically wounded fellow citizens, the concept of protesting against violations of your honor (like the YouTube videos Algerians have made insulting Egyptians) is totally alien to me. Not coming from an "honor culture", bravado and reputation-preserving violence and boycotts make me cringe. A Facebook group called "ACT TO END RELATIONS BETWEEN EGYPT & ALGERIA" that, as of now, has nearly 5,000 members maligns (in all caps, annoyingly) Algerians and paints ending diplomatic relations between the two countries as a religious duty. Meanwhile, some 5000+ Facebook users are fans of a page called "Si tes [sic] ALGERIENS et tu F**k l'égypte pour notre drapeau qu'ils ont brulés [sic]" (If you're Algerians and you f**k Egypt for our flag that they burnt). Absurdity. This certainly shatters the façade of Arab unity.

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