Revolution and the American Fever Dream

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This post originally appeared on Guernica.


A report from the Pew Research Center says that over 50% of the American public doesn’t know about what has happened in Egypt. Or if they do know about the revolution that occurred over there, they don’t really care all that much about it.

We’re looking at this thing from a tired old script.

Some Americans, feel the Egyptian protesters were looking for a U.S.-style democracy. Basically, they wanted American nylons and Hershey bars, and whatever else liberated people want in those old movies. It seems these people were also inspired by George W. Bush and his belief in the one-size-fits-all exportability of democracy.

Of course, the shiny people (they’re the ones who believe that America is a shining inspiration to all, since World War II) forget that there are many strains of democracy, and that it doesn’t always lead to the same kind of corporate one that we have here. They forget that democratic governments emanate from national identities. And these governments operate out of national interest, and nothing else. What’s in the national interest of some country elsewhere may not match what’s in ours.

Meanwhile on the far left, they’re running with the unicorns, predicting that these changes will mean a new, more peaceful world. Or revolution here (I went to a rally for Egypt that was hijacked by Maoists who said that, with our pathetic little posters, we were going to rise up and take over New York City and then the country). Many on the left attack Obama for not having urged revolution, right away. Of course, they forget that the United States serves its corporations first, and that it has long-been entangled in a variety of foreign alliances. We’ve hardly ever (have we ever?) supported a people’s revolution. Yet, Obama is supposed to be a superman. He isn’t. America hasn’t elected a revolutionary into office in some 200 years.

As Americans, we have inherited a stacked deck. We’re in a headlock with our corporate masters and in exchange we’re kept numb by entertainment and assurances that we’re the strongest country on the face of the earth. We serve our corporations and what they want. What these corporations want from Egypt is a territory kept cooperative enough for America to pick clean of its resources.

The Egyptian revolution is inspiring, even more so because it occurred at the edge of U.S. power. We can’t control what’s happened. No one can, not even the lords at GM GE Exxon Mobil–and that’s what a revolution is. It’s, well, revolutionary. what happened in Tahrir Square happened without us, and we weren’t even invited. It was the result of what Steven Berlin Johnson calls emergence: it was leaderless, and all the more powerful because of that.

For over 30 years, we gave Egypt the shaft, because it was in our national interest to do so. Now it’s time for Egypt to find out where its own interests are, without a strongman leading the way. The country has a difficult and terrible road to walk. I hope they’ll have enough of a jaundiced sensibility to look to themselves for guidance, because the United States and its allies will first be interested in keeping the world safe for 9 to 5, not in engendering equality and economic parity. One can only hope their revolution succeeds–and that it spreads.

Source: Guernica

Image by mshamma, licensed under Creative Commons.

Copyright 2011 Meakin Armstrong

Meakin Armstrong is a freelance writer and fiction editor at Guernica. His nonfiction has been featured in Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood,,, Time Out New York, USAir Magazine, and in the books, New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg and Museyon Guides Film + Travel North America. In 2007, he received a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarship for fiction.

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