Whenever there are frenzies about political conflicts in the Middle East, I have a tendency to get so confused by the media coverage that I never take the time to connect the events to my own community.
As much as I try to make the news directly relevant to daily life, I find it difficult to view the issues as anything more than “just news.” But with recent events in Egypt, there was something utterly riveting that shook me.
I’m sure by now most people are aware of the political strife and uprisings in Egypt. The issue has been broadcast all over television, displayed on the front page of daily newspapers and featured online, be it the Yahoo! homepage or YouTube’s suggested videos.
To give you a minute summary, inspired by what is now known as the “Jasmine” revolution in Tunisia, the Egyptian people — who have been living the past 30 years under the rule of President Hosni Mubarak — have recently joined together in a series of riots and rallies in a demand for the president’s resignation.
The current eruption of anger at the government is due to long-repressed frustration with Mubarak’s inefficient and autocratic method of governing — which has led to (among many other problems) serious unemployment, ubiquitous corruption and overwhelming poverty. The severity of the recent protests has resulted in continuing violence, a nighttime curfew in major cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, destroyed buildings and an Internet shutdown.
Amidst the hullabaloo, there are questions being shot out from every direction. Are America and Europe responding as they should? Who will succeed the president if the citizens’ efforts manage to pull through? How strong is the Muslim Brotherhood’s presence in the opposing party? Will this event trigger other Middle Eastern countries like Yemen or Saudi Arabia to follow suit?
And while these questions are definitely important and must be contemplated and answered, there is one line of questions that I believe brings this foreign conflict home to us students at Binghamton University.
Who exactly are these people running on the streets? Who are the people brave enough to ignore the curfew and unite together to articulate their frustrations? Who are the people who believe themselves powerful enough to overthrow a president?
A shocking number of these rioters are young people. Young Egyptians, not too much older than students here, are the ones who are daring to organize meetings and rising against the government.
Whether they are Egyptian or American, Cuban or French, Chinese or Somali, the youth are youth, no? I mean, these are people we can relate to. They are people of our own generation. They probably enjoy drinking with their friends, have a boyfriend or girlfriend, listen to music, joke around and get annoyed at worried mothers every once in a while, yes? If nothing else, they’re obviously using the same social networks as us — though it seems that they’re using Facebook more effectively.
I’m not saying that we need to do something as politically radical, or that we’re all lazy asses for not caring enough. I’ve been a victim of blissful ignorance more times than I’d like to admit.
But I just want us to take five minutes out of our days to think about this. After reading the news and informing ourselves about the world, what is the least we educated American college students can do?
We can try to make global crises something we genuinely care about. Not just to realize how we are privileged to be in a relatively safe and spoiled environment, but also to truly recognize that there are people our age all over the world fighting for something they believe to be real and worth dying for.
Tomorrow I will wake up for my 8:30 a.m. class. I will have my morning tea with honey and learn about calculus and Kafka. After classes I will probably go to the fourth floor of the Glenn G. Bartle Library, sit at the table that looks out of a window that shows all of Binghamton and do my work as usual. And what I won’t see is government buildings on fire, thousands of people roaring on the streets and police officers firing into the crowds.
And for me, that is enough to make the events in Egypt come alive.