It’s been some week. As I write this several days after a stubborn dictator, Hosni Mubarak, has finally stepped down in Egypt, there is a feeling of relief even though the event has transformed an oppressed country half a world away.
Jim Wallis, called “a Christian leader for social change” by the Huffington Post, says the Egyptian people have changed the world. What the new generation of Egyptians represents, he declares, is not only a victory for democracy, but a “new leadership, a new hope for the future, new voices for the establishments, in both their country and ours.”
Such a sweeping statement—a prophetic word, perhaps—not only implies a new political order in Egypt, but here in North America as well. Too often, we who profess allegiance to a different kingdom buy into the “lazy stereotype” of Arab countries being inhospitable for democracy, as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calls it. “It is time to stop treating Islamic fundamentalism as a bogyman,” he writes. “[North] American paranoia about Islamism has done as much damage as Muslim fundamentalism itself.”
In reflecting on the fast-moving events of the so-called revolution in Egypt, it is more important to note that it was led by their young people (two-thirds of Egypt’s population is under age 30) than that the total population is 90 percent Muslim and only 10 percent Christian.
Rather than buy into the media- and sometimes western government-driven narrative portraying the Arab world as one big oil field dominated by dictators and Islamic extremists, we should take our cues from our own Mennonite Central Committee workers on the ground, such as Tom and Judith Snowdon, who spoke with me from their temporary home in Strasbourg, France.
The Snowdons, from Saint-Joseph-De-Kent, N.B., are far more concerned about the destructive dynamics resulting from an obvious rich-poor gap in Cairo and the surrounding countryside. They encounter it every day with their partners in peacebuilding as they attempt to lift the Egyptian people out of poverty through literacy and English language programs, HIV education and clean water projects, to name a few of their activities with 11 of their national co-workers.
It was the insidious hoarding of wealth, as is now being exposed with the departure of Mubarak, who, while acting with impunity as the broker of peace in the Middle East, was able—through a tightly knit circle of family and a cartel of business-associates-named-government ministers—to amass a personal fortune of billions while most of his people lived on $2 a day.
What the Snowdons are experiencing in a setting of upheaval half a world away is more than symbolic. It should instruct us as to how our world is changing—a world that does not fit comfortably into our stereotypes.
Let us honour the Snowdons’ request to pray for “better times for the Egyptian people.” For it is the Egyptians who will have to use all of the ingenuity and resources they can muster to see themselves through this new uncertain, perhaps treacherous terrain.
Please tell us!
In this issue, we are soliciting your feedback on how we are doing as a denominational publication. Please take the time to fill out the questionnaire on pages 29 and 30, and either mail it back to us or go online and complete it electronically. We would like your feedback no later than March 25.
It has been 10 years since we last did a readership survey. In a fast-moving media age, that is a lifetime! Using newsprint and ink, and a sometimes unreliable postal system, to deliver our product has served us well up until now. But we may, like in Egypt, be undergoing a transformation in the way you, as our readers, consume and use the publication. It is hard to measure the impact of the electronic age and the heavy use of social media.
We hope it is not as tumultuous. Rather, we want you, the reader, like the generation of young Egyptians, to tell us how we are doing. Are we discussing issues that address your day-to-day living? Are we adequately covering the news from your area? How much do you read our website?
The answers to these important questions will help guide our work and mission in the future.