Tag Archives: Egypt
Here we go again. Amidst political upheaval and social disorder, a nation’s priceless cultural treasures bear the brunt of the angst. We saw this happen in Afghanistan in 2001, when the Taliban ordered the destruction of all Buddhist statues in the region; including one that – at 2,000 years of age and 165 feet tall – was the oldest and biggest replica of the prophet in the world. We saw it occur just this past spring in Mali where rebels torched two buildings holding ancient manuscripts; some dating to the 13th century A.D.
Now Egypt’s famous Malawi National Museum has fallen victim to the “Arab Spring.” Last week looters stormed into the internationally-renowned museum and damaged or destroyed scores of artifacts. In an official statement, the government has blamed supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood for causing the damage. Museum authorities are still surveying the mess and compiling a list in an attempt to prevent other artifacts from being smuggled out of the country and possibly sold in the underground antiquities market.
At this point in the debacle, does it really matter who’s responsible? What does the government intend to do if it – and this is just a wild-ass guess – if it actually manages to bring someone to trial? In the bitter world of politics and ethnic clashes, a nation’s artistic and cultural legacies somehow always get caught in the crossfire. Looking at these photos, it’s tough to understand what can be done to rectify the calamity.
Here we go again – more violence in the Middle East. In case you’ve been in a coma, or preoccupied by Dancing with the Stars, Egypt is in another uproar; this time because President Mohammed Morsi has issued a mandate that grants him more political power. This comes less than two years after Egyptian liberation activists forced Hosni Mubarak to resign, following a nearly three-decade reign. Then, the “Arab Spring” erupted, as one country after another in the region started demanding truly democratic states; free speech, free elections, the freedom to walk down the street and not be hit by a car bomb. But, just as things seemed to settle down – and they always just seem to settle down – Israel and Palestine have begun fighting once more. Yawn – so what’s new?
Years ago, when I worked for a bank in downtown Dallas, I’d set my VCR to record the CBS Evening News. I often made it home, as the VCR was recording, so I’d just lay down for a quick nap. But, whenever news of the day’s events came to the Middle East, I’d just fast-forward the tape. I didn’t want to hear – again – what crap was ablaze in that part of the world. And, that part of the world is always ablaze. If news reports of the region don’t show scattered body parts and ambulances swinging around street corners, I tend to think the end of the world has come and I didn’t check my email in time.
Just like every U.S. president since Richard Nixon has longed to end America’s dependence on foreign oil, every U.S. president since Richard Nixon has sought peace in the Middle East. In the waning days of their respective administrations, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush became determined to draw up peace treaties. But, Jimmy Carter came closest of any Chief Executive with the Camp David Accords. In 1978, he succeeded in bringing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together to discuss two plans of action:
(1) a framework for the conclusion of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and;
(2) a broader framework for achieving peace in the Middle East.
The first provided for a phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Sinai Peninsula and that region’s full return to Egypt within three years of the signing of a formal peace treaty between the two countries. It also guaranteed the right of passage for Israeli ships through the Suez Canal. The second was a more general framework (with vague terms) for Israel to gradually grant self-government and/or autonomy to the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and to partially withdraw its forces from those areas in preparation for negotiations on their final status of autonomy after a period of three years. The two countries had been in an almost perpetual state of conflict since the 1956 Suez War, which had ultimately led to the 1967 “Six Day War.” Israel invaded Egypt in May 1967, after the latter had forced the United Nations to withdraw from the Suez region. Israel believed Egypt was about to attack them, so it engaged in what is now called a preemptive strike.
That’s how it’s been ever since. The history of the Middle East is long and complicated, as you might expect from one of the birth places of modern humanity. Early Egyptians built one of the most advanced and complex societies in the ancient world; they created one of the earliest forms of writing. The ancient Israelites had lived in the area for thousands of years. But, scores of powerful societies – from the Babylonians to the Romans to the Ottoman Empire – gradually forced them out in different waves over extended periods of time. The British were the last; leaving in 1948, as the new Israeli state took shape.
Thus, I hate to see that entire region engulfed in a continuing state of war. It’s one of the most culturally and archeologically significant places in the world. I was upset, in early 2001, when the Taliban destroyed some of the oldest pre-Islamic statues in Afghanistan, including a 2,000-year-old, 165-foot-tall Buddhist masterpiece.
Since its founding as a formal nation in 1948, Israel is always fighting someone. But, it seems they have no choice; they’re surrounded by enemies. And, Israel is a small country, both geographically and population-wise. Like every other nation, it has a right to exist in peace. Its people have endured plenty of suffering, too; bounced around like trash sometimes; forced to move from one place to the next, while trying to maintain their unique
cultural identify and personal dignity. The Nazi Holocaust of World War II compelled many Jews to flee Europe and settle in the area generally known before 1948 as Palestine. They sought to establish their own homeland.
I actually support Israel. They are the only true democracy in the Middle East. They have the highest standard of living in the region and one of the highest in the world. They also have one of the best national policies: every one of their able-bodied, able-minded citizens must serve in one branch of their military. I feel the U.S. should adopt the same strategy, although wealthy conservatives, bleeding heart liberals and angry feminists would throw a fit.
But, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of this Middle East mess. I’M REALLY TIRED OF IT! Like presidential campaigns and Thanksgiving turkeys, it’s never-ending. And, the entire world seems to stop and pay attention when a bomb goes off or a solider is kidnapped – which I’m sure is how Israel, Palestine and all the others like it. At the start of the 2007 – 2009 Israel – Palestine conflict, even HLN’s Nancy Grace took time out from looking for missing White females to talk with Christiane Amanpour about the fighting. I literally did a double take. What the hell was Nancy Grace doing involved in that shit?!
But, that proves how much attention the Middle East garners whenever things go awry – which is all the time. It’s the same conflict – the same issues – the same level of anxiety – and the same results. People die, and the streets are bloodied. Israel holds up its hands, saying they had no alternative but to defend itself, and Palestine, Egypt, or whoever claims they’re fighting for their own self-preservation. Nothing changes. Yet, the U.S. keeps jumping in to save Israel and work towards elusive peace agreement.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next – aside from more bloodshed and name-calling – and I don’t know what can be done about it. But, sometimes I wish the U.S. would just stay the hell out of it. I know that won’t happen. But, I have these wild dreams sometimes and I like to think they can actually come true, if people would just listen to me.
Image courtesy of Olle Johansson.