For nearly a year now, I have been following the news - with alternating elation and deep concern - about the Arab Spring as it manifested in Egypt and especially Egypt's fascinating, maddening, engaging capital city, Cairo.
Concern has been trumping elation lately. Never more so than today, when I read this paragraph in a Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) news story about Cairo:
"Since the spring, the (Egyptian) military chiefs have allowed or ordered major crackdowns on protesters that have left as many as 100 people dead, and they have sought to enshrine their powers in a new Egyptian constitution, but so far have failed. Now, the generals seem to be using civil society groups as scapegoats, accusing them of using foreign funds to support nefarious efforts to destroy Egypt.''
This after the military raided 17 Cairo offices of pro-democracy groups, confiscating documents and equipment and accusing the organizations - some of which are based outside Egypt and receive some funding from abroad - of, well, as the Post story puts it, "attempting to destroy Egypt.''
I visited Cairo in 2009 and 2010. I met some interesting people there and because I have done that, I know a little more and care a lot more about what happens in Egypt. Travel can do that for you. It was clear to me that there was a pent-up demand for democracy, repressed under since-deposed president, Hosni Mubarak. Such people don't want to destroy Egypt, they want to build Egypt. Now, it appears that Egypt is being burdened with Mubarakism without Mubarak. In place of an aged and out of touch dictator stands a xenophobic, anti-democratic army that may well be trying to restore a military dictatorship.
I hope the brass hats fail. And I hope non-violent resistence to their aggression will succeed. Only then can the millions given some measure of hope by what started in Tahir Square on 25 January 2011, return to building a free nation. And only then will gates to travel and tourism be fully reopened. Most foreigners are understandably skittish about visiting Egypt right now. In line with that, two of my frequeent U.S. freelance outlets cancelled commissioned travel features I was to have written about Cairo. That's a small annoyance for me. It's far more important for a poor populace that depends on revenue from Egypt's crucial tourism industry - think the pyramids, the sphinx, the Nile, the Red Sea, Luxor - to earn a living wage.
Here's to them. Here's to them in 2012, and beyond.