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The Blue Revolution
February 4 2011

Sarah clicked the remote. Staring at the black screen, she moved the spoon back and forth across the surface of the cooled shay.  She smiled.  Fascinated by the shape of the indigo tin, she had bought this tea in a tiny dim shop in the Khan al-Khalili over a year ago.  Hassan, the toothless proprietor, had put up quite the fight before agreeing to a price four pounds less than the tourist market price.

She looked at her watch. All the tourists would be getting on the planes now.

Placing the thin china cup on the hammered brass circlet, she moved to the wall of books. A thick volume on the Fatimid Dynasty caught her eye.  Randomly, she flipped through photographs of medieval Cairo; the courtyard of Al-Azhar gleamed in a white inlay that belied its thousand year history of welcoming the pilgrim scholar.  She paused, remembering the words of the CNN commentator; two mummies had been decapitated in the rioting. Were the tiles safe? Would anything be safe again?

The phone rang.

“Dr. Trindle, this is Michael Beasley from the Chronicle. I’d like to drop by today and speak to you about the latest developments in Alexandria?”  The voice raced through each word as if a breath or pause of any kind might permit a scintilla of thought to the contrary.  She heard herself intone her response as if a Coptic chant: “No Mike, as I told you twenty minutes ago, I’m not doing any interviews at the present time.”  “I understand that Dr. Trindle, but if you just might say a few words about Mubarak’s speech on the present situ …”

She closed her cell.

The teal framed image took her by surprise.  The same dark full face with penciled moustache, epaulets gleaming looked back at her. Gamal Abdel Nasser was a handsome man.   Never more so than the instant that was taken, just two years after the triumph that was the ’56 Suez War.  Her father had told Sarah the story at least one hundred times.  Eisenhower had demanded Britain, France and Israel stand down, and until the ’67 War, Egypt was the diadem of the Arab world. A Pan-Arab union did not seem possible, it felt realized.   Every radical voice had cheered the now assured demise of the ‘neo-colonialist stranglehold’.  The very concept of ‘nation’ swept through the developing world like wildfire impelled by a scirocco. Standing next to his hero, her father looked as innocent in that frozen moment of time as the sign carrying boys in Tahrir Square she had watched not half an hour ago, so proudly overseeing the lush incineration of Western made office equipment.

As she traced the outlines on the imprint ravaged glass, she vaguely realized that while not yet born yet for another six years, her fate as Middle Eastern ‘expert’ had been sealed beneath that glass as certainly as the United Arab Republic was destined to fall.  When her dad was not on some mad journalist trek, he would fill her dreams with bedtime parables of a land where millions prostrated themselves at the thought of a prophet rearing his white winged charger, Buraq, across the vast Sinai sands to a sacred spot in ancient Jerusalem.   He would place the familiar turquoise scarab in her small fingers and speak of a time far before that when every morning it was believed the sun god, Atum, rode a blazing chariot across the sky and brought light and warmth to the Valley of Kings.  His stories made the portraits of the brightly sailed feluccas on the Nile seem as if they were just waiting for Sarah to come and ferry her to what would become her second home.

His cancer arrived on the day Sadat was killed.

She was sitting in her periwinkle tufted chair in her office at the American University, when Samira walked in suddenly. “The President has been shot!” 

“Seriously?  Who the hell would shoot Jimmy Carter?”

“No, not Carter, Sadat!” her secretary seemed to gain animation with every word.  “He was watching a military parade, when an Islamic militant fired on him in the review stands. They think he’s dead!”

As an assistant professor, Sarah’s first thought was of tenure. Her final review was coming up that Friday and this would surely throw a wrench into that. Even as the thought took form she felt embarrassed, but why should she be? She detested the man in the Pierre Cardin uniform almost as much as most Egyptians. It was funny how differently her colleagues in the States viewed him. Six pairs of upraised hands:  the gnome-like Menachim Begin, the toothy Georgia farm boy and the swarthy, sweaty Arab leader, such was the cover of Time magazine and a thousand other journals.”Peace in the Middle East”.  Did they know?  Did any of them really know what they were doing?

No, she couldn’t stay.

No, it could no longer be the same.   Even as the radio bleated tattered remnants of description of the truck carrying the three assassins, she knew this would be not be as it was ten years past,  when a heart condition finished the breakage that the Six Day War had begun.  “The Lion is dead! The Lion is dead!” Ten million flooded the streets to watch Nasser’s coffin pass; her father wept more than he had for her Nana.  In so many ways, they were both benevolent dictators …

Sadat’s rule had been an enigma.  Every day young people virtually burst into class with new-made venom. Angry girls in cerulean chadors crowded her desk; bearded youths in black market denim denounced the ‘Sheytan’ as they bore fiercely through university corridors.  In their eyes, Camp David was the final betrayal.  How could it not be understood that the concession of the Sinai was giving away life blood?   Suddenly, the Palestinian transfer student was treated as brethren.  Internecine quarrels between countrymen were dropped.  Just as Sadat’s pleas for a ‘Pharoanic’ based legitimacy fell much on defiant deaf ears, so the cries of Gaza and the West Bank were embraced by a new generation.  Yet Sarah wept coarse tears, as the high military funeral procession passed under her Zamalek apartment windows.  Her father was dying as surely as any hope of Egyptian autonomy, although none of her charges could realize that.  And standing there in her sapphire-threaded djellaba, she understood deeply at that moment how the course of her entire existence had been circumscribed by two visions.  Just as surely as she could not fulfill her father’s self-appointed mission of being the ‘understanding, knowing’ Western voice, so this vast achingly beautiful land could never realize the glorious promise of its history past.  There were no more states of grandeur; no more Eastern empires; no possibilities of learning to breathe free. Thus when Hosni Mubarak stepped across the threshold of the presidential palace, there was quite simply nowhere to go. A fact made only that much more poignant by the thirty years it would take for over eighty million people to ferret the depths of that reality.

The phone rang. Sarah looked at the clock.

It couldn’t be five PM.   Swiftly gathering her papers together for her evening class … yes, three hours had passed.  She instinctively grabbed the remote. Internet communication was still down in Sharm el-Sheikh; the fire at the NDP building had spread throughout the district; opposition leader Mohammed El Baradei would soon be addressing the masses assembled near Cairo University; Obama was demanding that the ‘transition to democracy’ begin immediately. 

“Fine Carla, I’m running out to class right now. Here, just a brief statement.”  The movement of cell phone from shoulder to cheek was deftly accomplished as Sarah hastily stuffed her father’s leather satchel.  “The president cannot stay in office until September. If there is going to be an orderly transition in political power he must step down immediately.  The Egyptian model has the potential to bring about a reconfigured Pan-Arabism in the form of catalyzing a wave of democratization unlike has been seen before in the region, but if and only if developments are supported by a less equivocal position by the current administration.  Yes. The position of the Council on Foreign Relations is far too timid in its recognition of the signification of this political trajectory. Yes. That’s it.”

Stepping into the icy twilight, Sarah walked briskly to her car.  Gunning the ignition with a sober militancy, she wiped the driver’s side of a windshield that obscured the last hints of a peach azure sky and the star-like patters peeking through a glaze that covered her gray-blue eyes.

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