Unless you’ve been in forced isolation for the last week, then you undoubtedly have been closely following the civil unrest currently underway in Egypt. As I write this, President Mubarak is still in power, the people are organizing a million person march and foreigners are fleeing in droves. But what does it all mean?
The events in Egypt have been a long time coming, indeed the same could be said for many countries in the Middle East. A veritable powder keg of discontent, poverty and disenfranchisement, many of these nations have the same basic components for chaos and unrest as Egypt possesses.
Some say that the Tunisian revolts prompted the Egyptian protests, which well may be the case. Regardless of the spark though, the result will be a very different Egypt. There is no turning back at this point and regardless of who eventually takes power, the Egyptian people are heading into a new era. The process will be messy, confusing and prone to many mistakes. What must be preserved throughout the duration though are the underpinnings to regional stability and Egyptian cultural heritage.
It’s not an understatement to say that Egypt is key to Middle Eastern stability. The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, now in its third decade, guarantees a modicum of civility that has prevented another all-out war with Israel since its signing in 1979. Egypt has had significant influence throughout the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process from setting a regional tone to preventing even more weapons from entering the Gaza Strip. Without exaggeration, the revolution in in Egypt could greatly affect the security of Israel and with it the safety and security of the region and the world. Luckily, the Egyptian military has not signaled any interest in warring with Israel and at this point, they seem to hold many of the cards in the transition of government in Egypt.
Egypt has a long and proud history, as everyone knows, and her people are fiercely proud of this heritage. From a very pragmatic point of view, that history is also the basis for the Egyptian tourism industry, which is one of the most important sectors in the economy. That’s why I was so distraught to see the looting at the Cairo Museum over the weekend.
According to news sources, at least two Pharaonic mummies were damaged and many other priceless artifacts were either damaged or destroyed. Apparently the looters were looking for gold, not unlike their tomb robbing ancestors of three millennia ago.
The destruction that has already occurred, and any future damage to these relics, is a staggering loss to history and to the potential for the Egyptian tourism industry. Egypt depends greatly on its cultural sites for its financial well-being and the nation already has significant challenges in the next few years managing foreign fears and expectations. Egypt does not need the actual, physical destruction of its cultural relics and sites in addition to what will be an impossibly bad period of tourism recovery. Unfortunately, it is some of the poorest people in the country who will suffer the most as countless jobs directly or indirectly linked to tourism are lost.
What has been an encouraging sign are the hundreds of Egyptians who have formed human barricades at the Cairo Museum and other sites around the country. That sole act of citizen action speaks volumes and in many ways signals towards a more peaceful transition within the country as the Egyptians prepare for the next stage of their history.
What do you think of the situation in Egypt?