Tag Archives: egypt protests

Contemplating the Past, Present and Future: The Third Anniversary of Leaving Iraq

 

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.” Robert E. Lee

I began my flight home from the Middle East three years ago today. Three years ago I could not imagine what has transpired in my life since neither my return nor the situation that we see developing in Egypt.  It has been three years but it feels longer.  I have recounted my PTSD and psychological collapse as well as my crisis of faith which for nearly two years left me a practical agnostic numerous times so I will not say much about them in this article except to say while I still suffer from the effects of both I am doing better and faith has returned.

The war in Iraq changed me. I saw the suffering of the people of Iraq that the conservative media to which I had been wedded for years ignored or distorted.

Likewise when I came home to the nastiness of the 2008 Presidential Election I was unprepared for it. To see my countrymen tearing each other apart with increasingly violent rhetoric as well as the militancy of some was deeply unsettling and was a part of my collapse because I felt like my country was plunging into the abyss of hatred.

Since I have seen the tragic and long lasting effects of the unbridled hatred among former friends and neighbors in the Balkans as well as Iraq I know that anything is possible when we make the subtle shift from viewing fellow Americans as political opponents to mortal enemies to whom we equate every vice and evil.  What has happened to us?  Last night I responded to a dear family friend who has kept sending me e-mails of such intense anger and even hatred regarding those that he believes are destroying the country. I had to tell him that I could no longer go to those places and told him things that I have experienced after Iraq. He is older and both he and his wife have been sick and are isolated.  They are good people but I have not heard back from him.

Likewise the sense of abandonment I felt from my former church as well as many clergy and chaplains did nothing to help my faith. For the first time I realized how deeply that I needed other Christians and for the most part few were there for me, my brokenness made me radioactive to many.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”


Despite this healing came but also change which I think actually has been good for me and for the ministry that I am called to as a Priest and Chaplain.  While healing has begun I am cognizant of my own wounds and how they affect how I deal with life and others. I pray that they have made me a better vessel of the grace of God and his love.

Tonight I am somewhat contemplative. I have turned off the news and I am watching a movie called Lost Command starring Anthony Quinn.  It is an adaptation of Jean Larteguy’s novel The Centurions which is about the French Paratroops in Indo-China and Algeria.  These were men who after surviving Viet Minh prison camps after the fall of Dien Bien Phu were almost immediately redeployed to fight the insurgency in Algeria, sometimes against former Algerian comrades who were now part of the Algerian independence movement. Algeria was brutal and though the French had militarily defeated the insurgency they still lost the war, and for many soldiers part of their souls which were sacrificed for their country.

It has been three years since I stepped on the aircraft to come home and in some ways miss Iraq and my friends American and Iraqi. I watch as that nation and its people struggle.  I watch the continuing war in Afghanistan and emerging danger in Egypt and much of the Arab world I wonder what further sacrifices our Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen will have to make if the chaos spreads and if the violence will again come to our shores.  I wonder if our politicians from both parties will support us or abandon us even as we fight.

I remember my time in Iraq well. I can see the faces of my friends; remember the hospitality of the advisors that I spent my time with and the friendship of Iraqi Officers.  Sometimes the memories seem so real especially when I look into the eyes of those that served in Iraq. Fallujah, Ta-Qaddum, Habbinyah, Al Asad, Al Waleed, Al Qaim, Korean Village, Ramadi and its various neighborhoods, Hit, Baghdadi, COP North and COP South and what seems like a hundred more locations in Al Anbar Province from villages to small outposts.

I remember thousands of miles in helicopters, C-130s and in convoys, the smell of Jet Fuel, Diesel and hydraulic fluid which always seemed to find me in any helicopter I rode in.   I hear the helicopters fly overhead, some even tonight. I close my eyes and it feels like I am in Iraq again.

I am somewhat melancholy tonight, that war is never far away and unfortunately there are more to come.  But tomorrow is another day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Political Commentary, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

The Beginning of Chaos in Egypt: Watching and Waiting as the Situation Deteriorates

Battle Lines in Tahrir Square (Yanis Behrakis -Reuters via MSNBC)

Today violent street clashes broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Following President Hosni Mubarak’s pledge not to run for the Presidency again but remain in office until September and the opposition’s denunciation of that move as too little too late Tuesday night pro-Mubarak groups entered the fray. Men on camels and horses swept into the square during the afternoon whipping and clubbing anti-Mubarak protesters as they stormed through the crowd.  Reporters were attacked and as evening came the clashes became more violent as the pro-Mubarak supports began to throw Molotov Cocktails at the demonstrators. The Army did appear to attempt to make some efforts to separate the groups and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds but did little else. The scene was remarkably different from Tuesday when the protesters calling for Mubarak to step down did so in a peaceful manner unmolested by the Army units in the square.  The Egyptian military has aired television spots asking all of the protesters to “go home for the love of Egypt.”

Although the images shown on our television sets conjure the worst and appear to the country devolving into chaotic violence with unpredictable consequences. The fact is mystery shrouds developments outside the view of the cameras surrounding Tahrir Square. We are unaware of what is transpiring inside the government or the military. We are unsure about the extent of Egypt’s government or ruling party’s involvement in today’s counter demonstrations, some reports are that some at least were ordered in from government jobs.  The only thing that we can safely assume is that unless some kind of resolution acceptable to both sides arises the situation could get dramatically worse and imperil the success of any government that replaces the Mubarak regime whether he steps down in the next few weeks or holds on until September.

Regardless of the outcome Egypt and possibly much of the Arab World is at a turning point. Authoritarian regimes as different as that of Muammar Ghadaffi and Saudi Arabian King Abdullah have condemned the Egyptian uprisings as well as that which overthrew Ben Ali in Tunisia.  They know that the dynamics at work in Egypt, unemployment, poverty and political repression are shared to one degree or another in much of the Arab World, the common factor repressive authoritarian regimes which to many lack legitimacy.  Rulers in Jordan and Yemen have already seen demonstrations and Jordan’s king has fired his government apparently to get ahead of the protests and Yemen’s ruler has pledged to step down at the end of his term in 2014.  Leaders of other Arab nations cast a wary eye on Egypt and their own opposition groups.

The Egyptian revolution will more than likely not result in fundamentalist Islam dominated state due to the unpopularity of such regimes as the Taliban and Iran in the Arab World. At the same time while Islamists are not leading the revolution in Egypt they are an important part of the Egyptian political landscape and must be taken into account.  I would think that if the violence subsides and a peaceful orderly transition takes place that a government similar to Turkey, probably not led by a religious party could be the best result. Such a government would likely not be as close to the United States as Mubarak but probably remain an ally and not an active enemy of Israel as it seeks its own economic growth and stability to reinforce its pivotal role in the Arab World.  However there is no guarantee of this outcome.

The worst outcome would be continued violence that leads to a radicalized country led by more extreme members of the Muslim Brotherhood, some of whom have called the Egyptian people to prepare for war against Israel.  Unfortunately unlike the older generation of Egyptians the new generation has not experienced war and war’s desolation. The older generation was at war with Israel for nearly 40 years suffering defeat after defeat.  In 1967 they lost control of the Suez Canal and the income derived from it in the 6 Day War and in 1973 after successfully crossing the canal and inflicting heavy casualties on the previously invincible Israelis had the tables turned on them. An Israeli Army after driving off the Syrians in a desperate battle on the Golan Heights and advancing deep into that country crossed the Suez Canal, surrounded an Egyptian Army on the far side of the canal, lay siege to Suez and were poised to drive to Cairo saved only by a cease fire brokered by Henry Kissinger and the United Nations. The war nearly brought the Soviet Union and the United States into nuclear conflict when the Soviets marshaled Airborne divisions to intervene and President Nixon raised the DEFCOM from 4 to 3. I remember talking to Egyptian officers, veterans of the wars with Israel when I was a student at an Army school in 1983, they talked of sacrifice and the brutality of war and the effects of the war on their country.  One simply said “I do not like Israel but I am tired of war and I do not want it for my children.”  Since Camp David Egypt has had all of its territory in the Sinai returned was able to reopen the Suez Canal.  Another war between Egypt and Israel would devastate both countries and for that matter not be contained.  A radicalized government set on such a course would be an unmitigated disaster for Egypt, Israel and the world.

While we watch Egypt protests are about to begin in Yemen with a “day of rage” scheduled for Thursday with demonstrations planned in Syria and Jordan Friday and Saturday and even Bahrain on February 14th. Expect such demonstrations as the old guard of the Arab World experiences the long suppressed rage of their people which is now spread in seconds through the power of the social media.  Meanwhile radicals in Iran, Al Qaeda and as well as other radicals and terrorist groups wait to take advantage. Yemen which has a strongly entrenched Al Qaeda organization and sits astride the strategically important Bab-el-Mendeb passage at the south end of the Red Sea is a country that is a prime target of these radicals and terrorists.  All the other countries for different reasons are important to the stability of the Middle East.

Today’s protests in Tahrir Square killed three and wounded over 600.

We can only watch and wait….and pray as these events develop.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, national security, Political Commentary

Walk Like an Egyptian: The Egyptian Revolution and the Radicalization of the Middle East

Egyptian Protesters with Army Soldiers (AFP Photo)

As Egypt goes so goes the Arab World. Egypt is the leader of the Arab World, the largest country and the country with the most powerful military, a developing educated class and one of the most strategically located countries in the world. Much of the world’s shipping passes the Suez Canal and the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel and cooperation with Israel on security issues has resulted in the most secure parts of the Middle East for decades.  The United States and the West count Egypt is their key ally in the Arab World but now the world trembles at the revolution going on in Egypt because of the uncertain and potentially destabilizing potential in the Middle East and the world.

Mohamed El Baradei (AFP Photo)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had ruled Egypt under emergency conditions since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 by military members loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.  Mubarak has continued Sadat’s policies and been a strong ally of the United States and frequently has mediated for Israel in the Arab World.  He has been a stabilizing influence in the Middle East but has ruled as a dictator for all practical purposes since.  Mubarak dissolved his government and appointed a Vice President for the first time during his rule. He has steadfastly refused to step down.

Protesters (AFP Photo)

Conditions in Egypt include extremely high unemployment, poverty and social services which are insufficient at best and in many locations non-existent. Discontent has been simmering for years with Egyptian Police and internal security forces keeping a tight lid on dissent. The military however is the most trusted and respected institution in Egypt as it has kept a distance between it and internal security matters. The Police on the other hand are viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Matters have blown up in ways that few anticipated in the past week and it all began in Tunisia, a country on the fringe of the Arab World. Within a week of a popular overthrow of their President the flames of change were rolling across the Arab World, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt. Popular uprisings in key Arab countries led in many cases by educated pro-Western moderate professionals using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

As of now we are unsure of exactly what will happen. However Egypt is the key. The protests now have an internationally respected leader, the Nobel Laureate former head of the United Nations Nuclear Inspection agency Mohamed El Baradei.  El Baradei has called on the United States to support the Egyptian people and says that he has the mandate to form a national unity government and reached out to the Egyptian military which is important for the stability and security of any new government.

The demonstrations have grown in intensity and the Army had taken the place of the police on the streets to the cheers of demonstrators.  While this is happening there is a surge of looting and vandalism and individuals as well as communities are taking their security on themselves with no police on the streets to do so.

With the situation on the ground continuing to get worse the United States will have to act in support of the protestors or see its influence in whatever kind of government and with the Egyptian people dissipate.  The best outcome would be an orderly transition of power to some kind of national unity government headed by pro-Western leaders such as El Baradei.  Unless such a transition takes place the chances of the uprising to become radicalized under the domination of the long suppressed Muslim Brotherhood is a real possibility.  The key right now is the Egyptian military, respected at home and trusted it is closely linked to the United States in many ways.

We do not know how this will end and chances of it ending badly are as great as or greater than in 1979 when the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran and the subsequent moderate government. At least there is no Khomeini like figure ready to seize the moment and lead the country into an Iranian style revolution.  The Muslim Brotherhood has been under wraps for many years and though a fundamentalist movement is populated with professional people and not clerics and it publically renounced violence years ago. One can only hope that El Baradei and the military can lead the Egypt on a democratic and peaceful course and that Hosni Mubarak will ensure that the transition is peaceful.

Lord help us all.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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