I hate fireworks.
However beautiful the colors, however graceful the arcs of light that bend across night skies, however glittering, flickering lights dance above far horizons, I hate fireworks.
It’s the explosions, the smoke, and, when I am present, the acrid smell that repels me. After years of covering conflicts and war in the Middle East, I cannot listen to firework displays without associating them with conflict, death, violence and mayhem.
July 2013. I watched the fireworks and laser light shows that lit up Cairo when the military announced it was overthrowing Egypt’s first democratically elected government, I was in awe of the Tamarod rebels, the millions who went out into the streets in protest, once again risking everything to demand “dignity, freedom, social justice and national independence.”
They knew well, and ignored, the potential for conflict, death, violence and mayhem.
1970. Cairo. I was in the streets at the funeral of Gamal Abdul Nasser, the Egyptian Army colonel who planned the 1952 Revolution that overthrew King Faouk I and who, after an assassination attempt against him by the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt’s second president. Over 3 million Egyptians thronged the capital’s streets to mourn his passing.
1974. Cairo. I was in the streets at the funeral of Umm Kulthum, perhaps the greatest female Arabic singer ever. Over 4 million mourners thronged the streets to honor their beloved “Star of the East.”
2011. Tahrir Square. I was absent, but my heart was present, when Egyptians thronged Cairo streets and Tahrir Square at the beginning of the revolution that toppled Mubarak’s dictatorship and propelled Egypt along a path toward parliamentary democracy.
2012. I cheered when Egypt’s first democratically elected president was announced to be Dr. Muhammad Morsi, chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party and member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
And I wrote, “This is a remarkable outcome for a revolutionary movement that is still less than two years into a struggle to overcome 60 years of military rule — a struggle that will probably take a generation to resolve.”
2013. Today, I am sympathetic about how unrealistic everyone’s expectations were for Egypt’s first freely elected government. Even we, in America, after over 200 years, still struggle to get things right — we still struggle over dignity, freedom and social justice.
That said, Morsi was deposed this week because he was intolerant and incompetent. The Muslim Brotherhood and his governing party was unable to recognize and embrace the revolutionary opportunity they had been given — their eyes failed to recognize truth. Morsi and his party embraced political tribalism and exclusionary policies. It failed to protect minorities and failed to make any advances to heal a dysfunctional economy.
The Islam-based Freedom and Justice Party ignored one of God’s great cautions to man: to beware of overweening arrogance. Their authoritarian version of Islamism was out-of-touch with the expectations of most Egyptians and the people turned against them.
July 2013: enter the military — again.
An intervention? A revolution? A coup?
In 2012, Ozan Varol posited that for a coup to be considered democratic it must meet seven characteristics:
“(1) the coup is staged against an authoritarian or totalitarian regime; (2) the military responds to persistent popular opposition against that regime; (3) the authoritarian or totalitarian regime refuses to step down in response to the popular uprising; (4) the coup is staged by a military that is highly respected within the nation, ordinarily because of mandatory conscription; (5) the military stages the coup to overthrow the authoritarian or totalitarian regime; (6) the military facilitates free and fair elections within a short span of time; and (7) the coup ends with the transfer of power to democratically elected leaders.” (Harvard International Law Journal)
Five of those conditions were met. Now we wait, impatiently, for the last two.
One of Umm Kulthum’s most famous songs was about Egypt, “Inte Omri,” which means “You Are My Life.”
She sang of Egypt: “You are more precious than my days / You are more beautiful than my dreams / Take me to your sweetness”
A year ago I wrote, “Change is messy, but an irreversible process has begun. If the Brotherhood can’t deliver then there will be another election and Egypt will try again…; and again…; and again…; as we, as Americans, have for more than 200 years…;”
Egypt, Umm Kulthum sings, “You are my life that starts its dawn with your light.”
Illumed by Egypt’s new dawn, to paraphrase Psalm 85:10, Mercy and truth can now meet and righteousness and peace can kiss each other.
Dignity, freedom, social justice and national independence remain the aspirations of the Egyptian people — and I remain in the streets, streets long familiar to me, alongside them in their struggle.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.