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sewing machines

November 26, 2010

Cairo, a summer night, 2009. On some beat, with N and K. I’ve been following the Twitter folks—the Egyptian bloggers, journalists, human rights activists and others with whom I corresponded during my stay there last summer—closely as of late. The police have been cracking down on supposed dissidents even harder in the last month and the National Democratic Party has, as one might imagine they would, been contesting presidential contenders. Whether Gamal Mubarak is the definitive successor remains to be seen. But it’s disconcerting to leave a place and still see its wheels spinning. There have been more protests, more vocal dissent. And the controversial Elbaradei, the former director of the IAEA, seems to at least have been allowed a wide berth to speak his mind. Though he won’t make it onto the ballot. No. I don’t know what to make of the situation. It’s frustrating. It feels as if the entire script has already been written in a way; the senior Mubarak will naturally not run for re-election in 2011, the candidate pool defined, Gamal (or should we say, ‘Jimmy’) will sweep the nation with NDP backing. And the march continues. Despite arguments that Gamal represents change in the form of a more forward-thinking platform, one that is pro-business, pro-markets, pro-Middle Eastern engagement, and one that does not rely on military cronies and departs from the paranoia of assassination and fundamentalist Islam that his father was paralyzed by, Gamal, is, still, well, Hosni 2.0. Yes, he is young, he is liberal, he is Western-educated and he will likely know his father’s mistakes. But, so is Bashar al-Assad and King Abdullah of Jordan. Do they represent a change of status quo? Or perhaps a change of status quo is not needed. As with the many stereotypes that have weighed down the Middle East, the notion of a propensity to move either at a snail’s pace or in diametrical opposition to the rest of the world is perhaps one of the most enduring. And to many, the former—the idea that the Middle East is still a place cloaked in antiquity, one too fragile to experience bursts of growth, and one too backward, too provincial, too insistent on nepotism, to ever leap forward—is precisely how it “should be.”
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