In the Sand
Growing up, we had a little white Quasar color TV set in the kitchen. My father put it on the table so he could watch while he ate after work. I did the same. I’d come home from school after practice, in time to watch the end of the local news and the beginning of ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. We didn’t have cable, and the CBS and NBC signals sucked in the outer boroughs. I ate my spaghetti while a Canadian high school dropout gave me the news.
I don’t know when I stopped paying attention, exactly. I think it happened a decade or so ago, after “real” adulthood took over, and my job and life made me so tired by the end of each day that all I wanted to do was watch sports—and people playing make-believe—instead of anything that required me to think.
Last night, on my iPad—yes, I have one—I watched the HBO documentary In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution, and I was mortified—and pissed off—by everything I didn’t know about what happened there in 2011. 846 people died in less that three weeks, and then over 300 more were killed in the aftermath. In the first days of the protests, the Mubarak regime hired a makeshift army of “thugs,” at $75 per head—a fortune—to clear out Tahrir Square, a major, modern-looking swath of open space in downtown Cairo where you don’t expect to see sword-wielding lunatics sweeping through on the backs of camels. Bloody fucking hell broke loose after that.
My concern here isn’t about who was at fault. It’s not about whether Mubarak was a Reza Pahlavi-like figure who spent thirty years collecting palaces and fine art while he bled his country dry and tortured his own people. And it’s not about whether the Muslim Brotherhood, if left unchecked, have designs on helping Al Qaeda bring Sharia law to my doorstep. These are things I’ve heard. Now I’ll do my research and learn my ass from my elbow in this department.
The problem here for me is that I didn’t follow along while any of this was going on. I had no idea. In January and February 2011, I was busy with my job, and the concerns within my meaningless little sphere—and although I’d heard snippets of news about what was happening in Tunisia and Egypt, I never took the time to really learn about the situation because of that whole “news embargo” thing I’ve had going on for the past decade.
I knew Egypt was an ally, of sorts—or thought so, anyway, because they’d made peace with Israel in the 1970s. I knew about the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and King Tut—because of Steve Martin, of course—and I knew Cairo was supposed to be a fairly cosmopolitan city that was friendly to western tourists. I’ve heard of the Aswan Dam, and I know that Nasser, the Egyptian president that preceded Sadat, was a pretty controversial guy. When I was in high school, an Egyptian guy named Alaa Abdelnaby played center for Duke.
That, right there, is the extent of my knowledge of Egypt. It’s embarrassing, but what’s even worse is my failure to pay any attention to this while it was in progress. It’s not like I’m addicted to bullshit TV, either. I don’t watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians, or Duck Dynasty, or anything else that’s popular—except, of course, The Walking Dead.
I don’t even know what those shows are, because I’ve never seen them. The idea, however, that I didn’t know a revolution happened in a place where 75 percent of the population makes less than $2 a day while the president is worth between $30 and $70 billion is disgusting to me. I’m horrified that, while I rode the subway down to the Financial District and back every day, worried solely about which salad I’d be ordering for lunch, 846 people died in a three block radius over a period of eighteen days.
It’s astonishing to me, after spending half my life bitching about how fucking stupid everyone is, but this level of ignorance leads me to believe I’m just as hypocritical as every other arrogant know-nothing walking the earth.
Sad but true.