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My Revolutionary Friends In Egypt

— As the story of the Egyptian revolution has played out in the media I’ve kept an eye out for the name “Shaath.” It’s the surname of an old university friend of mine whom I visited in Cairo about 20 years ago. I was reading an article in the New Yorker last week when I finally found what I was looking for.

Ramy Shaath's doumbek in my family room.
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Above: Ramy Shaath's doumbek in my family room.

My friend’s name is Randa and her little brother, Ramy Shaath, was the one who cropped up in the article. The Shaaths are members of a politically active family whose patriarch, Nabil, has been very active and highly placed in the Palestinian movement for several decades. It seems that Ramy, whom I knew when he was a teenager, takes after his father and he brought his revolutionary fervor to the battle to oust Mubarak.

Here’s how he was described in the New Yorker:

Ramy Shaath, half Palestinian and half Egyptian, had studied war strategy at King’s College, London, and spent time in demonstrations in Lebanon and Palestine during the second intifada. His day job is as a management consultant, but he has amassed experience dealing with barricades and tear gas. “It’s a hobby,” he said, smiling.

One thing Ramy has learned is that when you have to face tear gas, “Don’t use water, use Coke to wipe your eyes.”

There’s some irony in that because it reminds me of when I took Ramy and his brother to a Minnesota Twins game and they refused my offer of a Coke, as I headed to the concession stand, because Coca-Cola had a plant in Israel. They both wanted a Pepsi, which was not available, but agreed to drink a Sprite even though it was a Coke product and therefore a Zionist beverage.

I explained the game of baseball to Ramy that day as he methodically asked me questions. Are the pitcher and the batter on the same team? They’re not. What happens when a player in the field catches the ball? The batter’s out and the next one comes up. By the sixth inning this 14-year-old Egyptian kid fully understood baseball and seemed to enjoy it.

I have a favorable view of Arabs because the Shaaths are the kind that I know, and they are kind, educated and dedicated. Generous too. Ramy sent me home with his Arab drum, a doumbek, as a gift. Best of luck to them and good luck to Egypt as it faces the challenge and adventure of becoming a free country.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 23, 2011 at 10:50 a.m. ― 5 years, 11 months ago

Interesting anecdote.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 23, 2011 at 7:28 p.m. ― 5 years, 11 months ago

Tom: It is so hard to be optimistic about any Middle Eastern nation. The US is much more competent in hekping others to overthrow, oust, knock off regimes, than it is at building democratic regimes to repace those overthrown.
SEE: VietNam, Laos, Cambodia, Iran in 1952 AND 1979, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait. I too wish the Egytian nation well. It is an ancient nation and civilization. Unfortunately, Western-style democracy has not been a part of any period of it four millenia of existence. In this repect, Egypt is too similar to the case of Iran, when we nudged the Shah from power. The radicals did not establish an Islamic Republic immediately. The U.S. watched painfully from the sidelines-helpless, while "moderates" struggled with the radicals who found their savior in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Are we merely witnessing a similar calm before the storm in Egypt, just as we saw in Iran. Khomeini, even turned on those who served as his mignons in government; and they turned on him. Remember Sadegh Ghotzbadei? He was the Foreign Minister of Iran under Ayatollah K. He also was a regular on Nightline with Ted Koppfel during the hostage crisis of 1978-1980. Well poor Sadegh lost favor with Khomeini. Khomeni wanted Sadegh's head for ALLEGED treason. AND HE GOT IT!

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | March 24, 2011 at 3:04 p.m. ― 5 years, 11 months ago

I think you're being far too pessimistic about the ability of Arab nations to transition to Democracy. Not all Islamic parties are the same, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt may have little in common with the Shia groups that took over in Iran. From what I could see, they never sought to control or dominate the Egyptian revolution, which was comprised of many groups who ultimately won the support of the army. I cannot claim to be an expert in the politics of the region. But it's right to be optimistic when there's nothing to gain from being pessimistic.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | March 24, 2011 at 6:07 p.m. ― 5 years, 11 months ago

I'll try not to sound too pessimistic here, but realistic. Eygptians are mostly Muslim. The irony of this revolution is that no sooner than the people free themselves from their oppressive leadership than do we hear news of crowds of men heckling women who came out to celebrate National Women's Day. Yes, that's right, the religion that respects women and wants to protect them harassed them on their day out to bring awareness to the contributions women have made in the world. Instead of recognizing that the women helped them to gain this new independence, thousands of men came out and heckled and shoved them, telling them to go home where they belong.

Keep this in mind whenever you hear someone talk about "Democracy" coming to the Middle East.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 24, 2011 at 7:19 p.m. ― 5 years, 11 months ago

I wish I could be more optimistic. Americans have this romanticized belief that all the world wants to be just like America. This fantasy holds true across the political spectrum. A country of 80 million people, which is so desperately poor--(yes, Egypt does have an "enlightened" middle and professional class.) There is in Egypt a commnality with other Arab states. There exists a visceral mistrust of the West. Egypt's Gamal Adel Nasser tapped into this trait, and was a much beloved leader among Egyprians, as were his ANTI-AMERICAN, PAN-ARABIST, PRO-SOVIET policies.
His successor, Anwar Sadat, a truly honorable man, was assassinated in a plot that took the lives of Sadat and several other governmental officials. Why, because he signed the Peace Treaty with Israel. Ties whcih bind Egyptians together 1. NATIONALISM/ PAN-ARABISM- pride that Egypt is the "natural leader of the Arab world" 2. ANTI-WESTERNISM //ANTI-ZIONISM- a by-product of the West's history of colonialism and PRO-ZIONIST policies --which your friends evidently exhibited to you quite openly. 3. Lack of exposure to, and affinity for among the Egyptian masses, western liberal democratic traditions and values, EXCEPT WHEN EGYPT experienced western democracy under the heel of British Colonialism. 4. POVERTY AMONG THE VAST MAJORITY OF EGYPTIANS. -romantic notions of the joys of democratic institutions gets trumped by empty bellies and jobless multitudes every time. 5. Visceral ANTI-ISRAELI SENTIMENT-- the US was lucky that we had Mubarak on the US dole for as long as we did. He maintained the Camp David accords and kept a "COOL Peace-STATE OF NON-AGGRESSION" with Israel, all the while the US was funneling billions in foreign aid to Hosni Mubarak as his 'PEACE DIVIDEND" for keeping the peace with Israel. Tom, ironically, I had an occasional correspondence with the late Anwar Sadat and his widow, Jihan through his personal secretary from1978 until death. Sadat was a true Egyptian patriot and a man of peace with honor. Yet, his willingness to make peace with Israel made him a hated leader among most Egyptians and, in the end was the reason for his assassination thirty years ago, this October. So, yes, it would be a fitting tribute to the memory of Sadat's foresight and courage, if democracy thrived in Egypt. The circumstances which brought about Sadat's (his secretary-my intermediary, was also murdered) martyrdom are still thirty years later alive and well in Egypt. Yes, I remain pessimistic about a blooming of prosperous democracy on ther very crowded banks of the eternal River Nile. Share my words with your friends. Ask if they take issue with what I have written here.

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