Cairo, Egypt. A nation’s youth—driven to action by an oppressive and corrupt regime, a 40% unemployment rate, and a generally shitty state of affairs—protests in Tahrir Square, day in and day out. The results are startling. Hundreds dead, scores more beaten and injured, and a host of others arrested by a brutal police force bent on crushing their rebellion, whatever the cost. One of the region’s most stable nations has been plunged into a state of abject violence and chaos.
I want to go to Egypt.
There’s something about these Egyptian revolutionaries that has captivated many Americans, and you can count me among them. I don’t think it’s because the average Joe grasps the regional and global ramifications of a power shift in the Middle East. Most Americans probably couldn’t find Egypt on a map, and fewer still know or care about who Hosni Mubarak is. After King Tut, it’s all pretty much a blur. Unless Hosni lives in a pyramid and has a black and gold candy cane coming out of his chin, he just looks like an 80-year old Mexican to us.
Yet despite our indifference to this man, for some reason, we like seeing these people revolt against him. Maybe it’s just our visceral love of watching something exciting happen. That twisted joy we get from watching a train wreck in progress. We are a nation of rubber-neckers, morbidly curious about things gone wrong, from the accident we pass on the freeway to the latest Charlie Sheen coke binge. It could be that we just like watching things go bad for others because it makes our own lives that much more enviable by comparison.
But I think it’s something more. I think our hearts and minds are awakened by the protests in Egypt the same way they are when we watch Rocky…whatever else we are, we’re a country that loves an underdog. We are, after all, the beneficiaries of a legacy of rebellion. Our founding fathers had to topple a monarch to secure America’s existence, and we never quite lost that affinity for crushing bastards, punching the powers that be in the mouth for just one chance to live outside the grip of tyranny. Forget that America has gone from underdog to empire in the last two hundred years. That’s beside the point. We have retained a thirst, passed down not just from our forefathers, but from our primitive ancestors, an instinctual evolutionary desire for freedom.
Out there on the plains of Africa 100,000 years ago, our hunter-gatherer predecessors were concerned not with government, taxes, or legislation, but rather with how to feed themselves and their children and hopefully avoid being a lion’s dinner. Or as I call them, “the good ‘ol days.” And even in those rough-and-tumble days of yore, there were men who sought not just survival, but dominance. That competitive fire that fueled Darwinian natural selection made them successful, perhaps to a fault. Some men weren’t content with a lot of food or a hot woman. They wanted to eat all the food and bang all the women. And these men and their buddies weren’t afraid to club a few of their fellow tribesman to death to achieve their goals. They were the Hosni Mubaraks of the savanna.
And in response to this hyper-competitive proto human, nature discovered a response. A gene formed that curbed his dominance, halting his super-stimulated competitive streak for supremacy before it could destroy the entire clan. Young men and women developed a new emotion, a striving desire for autonomy…that need to be free that courses though all our veins, whether we’ve tasted freedom or not. Through the need for autonomy came rebellion, and revolution. The clan banded together. The bullies were strong, but those standing against them were many. They’d been pushed too far. A battle was waged. And when the dust had settled and the spears and clubs were bloodied, the clan had toppled their oppressors and balance was restored.
It shouldn’t take as long as it does to embrace these urges for liberation inside us, but when we do feel them, we must act on them. I sometimes wonder why we Americans, who stood up to King George III, to communism, to Hitler—are so content to let corruption of government and business erode our quality of life. From larcenous banks to ocean-destroying polluters, from crooked politicians to pedophile priests…it’s really just a few bad apples that are causing all the trouble. Why not stand up to them? Egyptians are doing it. So are the Tunisians and Yemenese. George W. Bush was right: the Middle East is ripe for democratic change. Just turns out they’re more likely to do it without American tanks rolling through their streets and flattening their mud huts. Go figure.
So here’s to you, Egyptians. My country may have suspended travel to your land, but my soul flies there anyway, waiting to bleed for your cause. In you, we freedom loving humans see ourselves…if not for who we actually are, then for who we want to be. The proud, principled masses, bearing the standard of autonomy passed down from a time before nations, before even language. You are the reincarnated spirits of every ancient man and woman who felt compelled to live free or die, a phrase coined by Americans, and then forgotten by them. For that reason, I look to you not with pity, but with envy.
Now go kick King Tut’s ass.