Thursday, October 28, 2004

John Kerry meets Hosni Mubarak

I am happy to report that my command of the Arabic language encludes quite a bit of "political vocabulary" and I spend some time "talking politics" here. Not Egyptian politics, American of course. First let me say that the lack of interest or ability or comfort of the average Egyptian to talk about the politics and system of their own country is rather intruiging to me. It makes me want to know more--are people silent because 1) they have nothing to say--they are perfectly content with the system, 2) they have nothing to say--they know nothing about politics and haven't an opinion/the vocabulary to discuss it, 3) have been taught not to talk about it with outsiders or 4) are paranoid about sharing their political opinions outloud due to possible persecution. I am very curious and hope to find out the REAL answer...if there IS one.

This if, of course, in stark contrast to America's favorite pastime (aside from the superbowl and nintendo)--criticizing the political system and speculating on how they could do it better. I suppose I am indulging a bit in this pet pieve of mine by even SAYING that, but americans DO complain a great deal and change their political alliences and opinions with the wind.

YET, that word CHANGE, although annoying, is blessed in a way. For anyone of the possible reasons stated above, not ONE person I have asked in Egypt is in anyway interested in having a new president--after 20 some odd years of Mubarek and all they SAY that want is more--more Mubarek. Is that because everyone has a job? Certainly not. Is that because the healthcare system is serving the people? Ha. Is that because he is a brilliant diplomat, friends with every world leader, and has NEVER waged war on another country? Guess again. Yet he's still the president and "term limits" is a concept that left my host sister, Gheda, scratching her head. We, however, like change in America. I have learned to say this quite fluidly in Arabic, in order to explain my views (often asked of me) on the upcoming election. My opinion is this: Bush makes promises. Kerry makes promises. I am certain both of them have SOME potential for fulfilling them. Neither of them, however, are omnipotent, and are bound by the one thing that they are trying to liberate--the people. That's right, no matter WHAT their intentions are, for better or for worse, it is the people that will either make something happen, or prevent it in the end. Both of them supposedly represent the average American's interests, one with a slight bent to the left, the other with a bent to the right. Yet both of them have the ability, have, and WILL to things that both gladden and anger BOTH sides...sometimes simultaneously and sometimes separately.

What I am trying to say here, does it really MATTER? Well, of course it matters that we exercise our rights to vote, and if i had been on the ball and gotten my absentee ballot (I had the opportunity to do so at the fourth of july function I ducked into, but felt so self-concious that I ran away before I did so) in time, I would be right in line, ready to turn it in. Who would I have voted for? Considering my lack of study on the subject, I can't rightly say for sure, but what I have said repeatedly to my inquisitive Egyptian friends it this: we love change in America. Kerry, I am sure, does NOT have the cure for the common cold, NOR does he have the power to do what every president tries to do--please EVERYONE, ALL of the time. Or even half the people, half the time. Certainly right now, Bush isn't peasing everyone...but he has, and if stays in office, he will again. So, since we love change, why not have a change? We like, as Americans, to get all excited over a new leader and think about how a new president and a new bureaucracy and a new decor in the white house will somehow change everyything in our lives. In the end, however, we find out what has always been, thankfully, true in America: the power of political influence lies in our own hands. Which is certainly more than we can say for our Egyptian friends.

As a side note, I am aware that my own country isn't a perfect democracy by any means. Well, what, exactly, IS a perfect democracy? We'll save that for another discussion. At anyrate, we all know that the U.S. isn't totally free from what is common in many countries in the world--religious and racial persecution on a government level. Even now, it happens. We would be foolish if we tried to deny that Arabs in America have, and still, have suffered deprevations of their constitutional rights in recent years. We may be able to comfort ourselves and say that's all in the name of national securtity...but let's save that discussion for another time as well. Apparently, though, Islam's latest recruit Cat Stevens encountered some kind of religious constraint and/or persecution at the hands of the American government. This was pointed out to me by a very smug Gheda who had been smarting since the day that I told her that Egypt lacks in religious freedom. She looked surprised when I informed her that Muslim converts to Christianity could be and are imprisoned (there is a guy in our branch now who is in prison, in fact), and I should have known she'd come back with a response. She did. She proudly showed me a blurb in a magazine and read the text to me. It said something like Cat Stevens was interrogated by the u.s. government about his decision to become muslim (did you know there is a special verb for this inArabic?) and that he had decided to NEVER go back to America. After reading this she said "so see! America does not have complete religious freedom." I questioned her on the logic of making such a definitive judgement based on four words in a magazine, but she claims to have read about Cat Steven's experience elsewhere. I see. I was more than a little irritated with her--she's 20 and thinks she knows everything--but her obstinance made me think. Doubtless poor Cat has received criticism. It is POSSIBLE, although unlikely, that he was approached and/or questioned by overly suspicious National Security individuals. Interesting, however, that one girl's entire judgement of 200 years of ceaseless efforts to separate church and state was determined by four words in a magazine. Let us not be so easily influenced by the media.

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