- MATT SCHUMANN
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Meknes / Morocco Board News-- I was sitting on the upstairs patio of Cafe Imilchil in Errachidia, enjoying a cafe niss-niss, when the waiter came upstairs to turn on Al-Jazeera. Something was different this time. Rather than frantic desperation, the announcer spoke with a sense of joy. The TV showed the same crowds as it had for the past two weeks, but mixed in with the shouts and chants was the sound of singing. The ticker read: "People throughout the Arab world, from the Atlantic to the Gulf, celebrate the fall of Mubarak's regime." My Arabic is not good enough for me to trust it at first glance, so I read it again and then asked a Moroccan nearby to confirm the news. My friend, a fellow Fulbright ETA, said this to me: "We'll always remember where we were when we heard this news."
The Egyptian Revolution was an undeniable turning point in history. While it remains in its nascent stages and the outcome is unclear at best, there is no way to ignore its importance to the Middle East and to the world.
Since September, I've lived and worked in a country similar to Egypt. Morocco is poor, Arab, Muslim, and not really a democracy. In many ways the Egyptians who protested are no different than the men and women I work with, see on the street, and sit next to in cafes. They have similar backgrounds and aspirations. And though I believe Morocco will remain a stable country and not experience any major change in government, it would be wrong to think that Moroccans are disconnected from the events that happened in Tunisia and Egypt. Everywhere you go people are watching Al Jazeera, listening to the news on the radio, or reading a newspaper.
One night during the first week of protests I went to a cafe near my house to have a coffee and watch the news. Even then, I felt a tangible energy in the place, as if at any moment Mubarak could fall. More than that, I knew everyone else, in Egypt, on television and in the cafe was feeling and thinking the very same thing.
During that night's coverage, they showed a video of a large SUV driving through a crowd of protesters near the American and British embassies in Cairo. The men in the cafe threw up their hands, shouting at the television. On each replay they would nudge their neighbors, wide-eyed, furious. They, like I, were disgusted by such a wanton and violent act against those people, no longer mere protesters. It was a powerful and essentially human moment.
This intense humanity drew me back to the television and newspaper throughout the protests. I was familiar with the various political implications, especially to America's foreign policy. I was interested in pundits' opinions and prognostications, but more so I read and I watched because of the drama. This was human drama to its fullest extent playing out on television: a poor, down trodden people set aside their social, political and religious differences in a united act of revolution; humanity pushed to its extreme pouring in through the television screen.
Media has played a huge role in all of this. And while it's popular to boast about the role of Facebook and Twitter in organizing these uprisings, I doubt their impact. Americans inflate social media's role in society because it plays such a big one in ours. There are about 150 million active Facebook users in the United States, or around 50% of the population. In the Middle East/North Africa region there are 15 million Facebook users, or less then 4% of the population. While I believe that Facebook and Twitter are revolutionary in the way they connect people, I can't buy their purported revolutionary influence on the Middle East. Then what is the revolutionary medium? In my opinion it is satellite television, and more specifically Al Jazeera.
Al-Jazeera has broadcast footage of the uprisings from Sidi Bouzid onwards. These images are the most powerful illustrations of the will and determination of the Tunisian and Egyptian people. Revolutions need logistics, organization and planning, but most importantly, they need energy. That energy comes from the pain, suffering, triumph and victory that plays out every night on television. I know this because I've felt it and seen it, and it is infectious. When Mubarak announced his resignation, a friend reported that it sounded like a crazy soccer match; she was listening to the crowds gathered in a cafe watching Al Jazeera.
As the events unfolded, and Egypt got closer to winning its freedom, I kept thinking, "Why don't Americans love this? This is the beauty of democracy: people rising up against oppression to make their voices heard. Shouldn't we love this?"
But America's reaction has been ambivalent at best.
It's well known that the Egyptian Revolution put America in an awkward political position. Sadly, we chose to view these events as such: a radical change to the factors that comprise our desired geopolitical reality. By fretting over "stability", oil prices, and "national security", we've lost the sense of human drama and triumph. We forget that this is a great human accomplishment. We're missing the point. Egyptians fought and died in the streets. They risked their lives to achieve a dream, a collective hope they've been denied their entire lives. What comes of this bloodshed when we we look past it?
These days, our national empathy has enough difficulty transcending party lines, let alone cultural, religious, and socioeconomic differences. And what happens when we increasingly view the world as a series of factors that comprise our "national interest"? Is it easier to empathize when we value abstract principles over ourselves and others?