Fourth of July in Egypt

Fourteen years.  That’s how long it took for the United States to go from declaring independence from England, to adoption of the document known as the US Constitution.  The years between were filled with revolutionary zeal, political infighting, more battles, temporary policies, public name-calling and outright rejections of federal law.  One could argue that this cycle is still being experienced.

History books tend to condense those early experiences into a straight-line sequence: Boston Tea Party, Declaration of Independence, George Washington at Valley Forge, victory over England, and a new country is born!  However, even a cursory look at the events will demonstrate that the birth of the American nation was chaotic, confusing and far from guaranteed.

What form will democracy take in this country?

As Egypt moves forward and takes its awkward steps towards a new system of thinking and doing, comparisons with other democratic experiments are inevitable.  The Middle East region is currently filled with examples of nascent and active movements, each with their own definition of ‘freedom’.  The colonial experiences and cultural heritage of the early Americans forged their philosophies and framed their debates.  This is very much what is taking place in Egypt today.  Egypt’s colonial experiences and extensive cultural history are all influencing the present conversations. 

The timeline of Egypt’s revolution will not match exactly with that of the United States, or of France, or of Tunisia or Lybia.  They all share concepts and fervor, sometimes even terminology.  They also share a need for patience and persistence.  Yet every resulting new system will have its own flavor.  The whirl and swirl of the revolutionary process will settle uniquely in each country. 

Respect for the right to self-govern was the pillar of the American Revolution.  Sorting out what that actually meant has taken a very long time.  It’s been over 200 years and the current Presidential elections are highlighting that the discussion is far from over.  Egypt’s sorting process is just beginning.  Its right to self-govern is going to take time to frame.  The coming years will be filled with revolutionary zeal, political infighting, more battles, temporary policies, public name-calling and outright rejections of federal law.  As Americans, we are bound to both acknowledge and respect this often painful process. 

How can we support the Egyptian people as they participate in their own Grand Experiment?  Travel websites and tour companies would have you believe that its as easy as choosing Egypt as a vacation destination, that by shoring up the Egyptian economy the dominoes of democracy will neatly fall into place.   If only it was as simple as that.  Financial stability is certainly a core aspect of any community’s growth plan.  However, adding money to the mix is not enough. 

Providing historic perspective, offering positive encouragement, presenting accurate information, supplying examples of respectful citizenship are just as important.  When visiting Egypt follow Ghandi’s advice and “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”  Stand as a representative of our American version of democracy and respect the efforts that Egyptian people are making to figure their own version out.  Listen.   Know your own history.  Be patient. 

Traveling within Egypt during this fascinating transition does have added cautions for security, as well as cultural expectations.  The best advice for a visitor is to go with extra wide eyes and open ears.  Egyptians are an incredibly warm and welcoming people who are genuine in their appreciation of visitors.    They wear their passions and ideals on their sleeves.  They will not hesitate to engage in conversation about the current events and will wholeheartedly share their opinions on it all.

Being able to knowledgeably speak of the American experience, in all of its long and turbulent glory, will provide your hosts with great insights.  Considering cultural context and how the Egyptian community is unique, will provide you with great insights as well.  Ultimately, the best kinds of travel experiences are when both guests and hosts make inroads towards understanding each other better.