Middle East

An Egypt Backgrounder from the Reason Archives


As Matt Welch notes, Egypt is on fire. If you're looking for some background information, look no further than these handy hits from the Reason archives. 

Reason Contributing Editor Charles Paul Freund has been on the Egypt beat for years. Check out some of his past writing on the politics and culture of the region:

Egypt: Judicial Revolt (May 15, 2005)

The Pharaoh's Reforms (May 12, 2005)

Egypt Joins the Party (February 27, 2005)

Free the Nile: Liberalism in Egypt (January 2005)

Sex, Politics, Religion, and Egypt: Want to know how complicated the Middle East can be? Go to the movies (October 14, 2004)

"Weapons of Singing Destruction": The escalating storm over Arabic pop videos (October 29, 2003)

A grab bag of relevant links from other Reason writers: 

Mitt Romney Doesn't Care About Muslim People by David Weigel (May 4, 2007)

What Next for U.S. Foreign Policy?: Power, stability, and the post-Iraq world order by Jesse Walker (June 2003)

Yes, It Is Bread We Fight For, But We Fight for Facebook Too by Jesse Walker (April 23, 2009)

Walk Like an Egyptian by Michael Young (June 19, 2005)

Egypt Rising by Nick Gillespie (February 17, 2004)

Behind the Cedars: Nonviolent protest in the Middle East by Jesse Walker (March 8, 2005)

Stay tuned for continuing coverage.

NEXT: Grade Inflation

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  1. Walk Like an Egyptian ? Thanks I’ll be hearing that all day.

    1. Just sing Egypt’s Burning to the tune of London’s Burning.

    2. f-i-r-e-i-n-c-a-i-r-o
      and burn like fire
      burn like fire in cairo

  2. And you still fail to link the streaming live video…


    1. I’ve been watching the coverage since you posted the link on the other thread. Excellent.

      1. It’s kind of amazing in every possible way. The spectrum of emotion is almost completely covered in the images alone.

        I find it incredibly interesting that new media (online and social and what not) is not how this is being displayed. It is a conventional or traditional news organizational using a the good ole’ satellite feed to get the information out.

        So much for the turn the internet switch off…

        1. Also, the coverage offers a perspective you’re not going to get from US sources (or European for that matter).

    2. Their emblem reminds me of the onion. I keep loling.

  3. Speaking in the classical sense, will the next Egyptian government be more liberal or more illiberal than the last? Is this a step towards a more democratic Egypt, or a step toward a different kind of tyranny? Too early to tell?

    1. I hope it will be more liberal. Hope against hope. But I doubt it.
      The moslem brotherhood is strong.
      The belief among Egyptians that big government can solve their problems is widely held.

      1. Re: kwais,

        The belief among Egyptians that big government can solve their problems is widely held.

        So it is in other places, like the U.S.S.A. – and Santa Monica.

      2. kwais,

        Do you still live in Egypt part of the year?

    2. If this is MB, and it looks like they are at least a part of it, you will get a mixed bag imo.

  4. You know who else is on fire?


    REASON is en fuego, baby!

    1. You know what would really be en fuego? Lobster girl.

  5. We show our frustration by voting the morons out every two, four or six years. Thankfully/hopefully America doesn’t get to a place where we want/need to immolate ourselves to make the point.

  6. This is obviously the fault of Bruce Springsteen. I bet you’ll find a lot of these protesters have “Streets of Fire” as a favorite song on Facebook. Animals.

  7. I have been watching this news intently all day long.
    I lived in Egypt for 7 months. I have many friends there. I had a girlfriend there.

    One time the cops were hassling my girlfriends uncle about his car not being registered properly. The cop could have taken the car. They asked me to go talk to the cop because I am American.

    I told the cop to leave him alone, and he did. The cop told me “you are American, you own this country”

    This one of the reasons I think Biden’s comments were doubly stupid.

    1. I told the cop to leave him alone, and he did. The cop told me “you are American, you own this country”

      I think if my country could be bought for as little as 1.4 billion a year I think I would be pissed at my country more then I would be pissed at the poeple who bought it.

      1. Oh, the 1.4 Billion was just part of it. That was part of the cost to buy the head thugs in the government.

    2. Should have looked downthread before I asked about whether you were still living there!

      I think the U.S. is worried about the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power.

      Mubarak has been a check on that for so long, that for the sake of stability…

      Biden’s initial remarks should be seen in that light. If the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in Egypt, I think that’s good news for Hamas and others who don’t like us very much.

      1. Biden’s initial remarks should be seen in that light. If the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in Egypt, I think that’s good news for Hamas and others who don’t like us very much.

        What should be our interests? Spiting poeple that don’t like us or letting events unfold that would allow us to get the fuck out of supporting and funding dictators and tyrants?

        I would rather have clean hands and people hating us then dirty hands and poeple hating us.

        1. I’m not sure our security interests should work like that.

          I’m not sure what kind of security threat they pose either, but if they do pose a significant security threat? Then having clean hands isn’t my primary concern…

          There may by myriad approaches to security threats, but they all boil down to two or three. Those two or three ultimately involve either invasion and occupation or remote control.

          Invasion and occupation are even more extreme than remote control–there’s a lot of bombing. Civilian casualties. Sometimes sitting back and hoping the bad guys will be our friends–if only they get a chance to vote? Is just wishful thinking.

          Sometimes when people get a chance to vote, they vote for Muqtada al-Sadr, Hezbollah and Hamas. I don’t think we should necessarily assume that such anti-American groups winning legitimacy through elections will be good for American security interests…

          That assumption seems kinda naive to me.

          1. The problem with this analysis is that often the only real reason opposition groups with mainly local concerns are anti-American in the first place is precisely because we supported the existing regime.

            There is no country on earth that is a “natural” enough ally of the United States that our relationship with it could survive an orchestrated American attempt to pick one side to be in power. The UK is about as “natural” a US ally in economic, political and cultural terms as you could devise or invent, but if we announced that ONLY a Tory government was acceptable to us in the UK, and we would initiate sanctions or bomb them if anyone else was elected, and then the CIA strolled in and started giving torture tips to Mi5 interrogators who were crushing the testicles of Labor Party leaders, I bet there would be anti-American UK groups that would put Hamas to shame in about ten minutes.

            1. I’m all for changing sides on a dime if it’s in our best interests to do so…

              But I’m not about to go around pretending that the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power–if that’s what happens–is necessarily good news for American security interests…just because they came to power by democratic means?

              I’m not saying that supporting a vicious dictator is always and will ever be in our best interest either. It isn’t the solution to everything.

              But not opposing popular anti-American movements just because they’re popular isn’t the solution to everything either. There are lots of places in the world where people hate us–and places where hating on us makes would be rulers popular.

              I wouldn’t blame the United States solely for thirty odd years of oppression by Mubarak anyway, but even if that oppression was only because of our foreign aid money…

              If the Muslim Brotherhood is a significant threat to American security, then seeing them come to power by democratic means won’t make them any less of a security threat.

      2. Oh, the 1.4 Billion was just part of it. That was part of the cost to buy the head thugs in the government.

      3. About the Hamas election:
        1- From what I know of the PLO, Hamas to the Palestinians, seems to me to be the lesser of two evils.
        2- Hamas was created by Israel.
        3- Hamas’s election in Gaza was orchestrated by Israel.

        I detest theocracies. I detest socialist governments that make rules about religion like Israel and most the middle east and Hamas is.

        That said, in what way is Hamas an enemy of the US?

        1. “That said, in what way is Hamas an enemy of the US?”

          Hamas is a terrorist organization that uses suicide bombings.

          I wasn’t saying they’re precisely targeting the United States or that they’re an enemy of the U.S. specifically.

          I thought I’d mention, though, that just because an organization is terrorist and uses suicide bombings, etc., doesn’t mean they can’t win an election.

          If we were generally supportive of the Mubarak regime because we thought they were opposing organizations like that, that if they came to power would be a security threat to the United States?

          Then holding an election doesn’t make that issue go away.

    3. I told the cop to leave him alone, and he did. The cop told me “you are American, you own this country”

      If it were me, even though I helped someone out of a bad situation with the government, that line above would have made my stomach sink.

      1. Here’s a chart of U.S. Foreign Aid…


        1/3 of all our foreign aid goes to Israel and Egypt–the chart doesn’t show Iraq and Afghanistan, but I know we’re spending a lot more than that there.

        We’ve sent them over $50 billion over the last 30 years or so–so you’d think the least they could do is fix a ticket for kwais every once in while…

        Still, that was one hell of an expensive ticket to fix if you ask me!

        $50 billion, that’s a lotta money.

        Still, if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power? I know where we can save another $2 billion a year!

        1. “We’ve sent them over $50 billion over the last 30 years or so…”

          Conversely, I think we probably spent more than $100 billion a year on Iraq alone.

          …and we didn’t accidentally drop any bombs on any Egyptian civilians either!

    4. The cop told me “you are American, you own this country”

      To bad that that would never happen here.

      1. I know right! The one place it should happen.

  8. Yes, always go to Reason for an unbiased take on world events.

    1. Re: Max,

      Max, H&R’s pet yorkie.

      Here, Max! Here boy! Go fetch!

      No! Bad Max, bad! Don’t do your banalities on the carpet, I just had it steamed! Bad, bad Max!

    2. So what is the viscerally angry left wing moon bat take of these events Max?

    3. Yeah, Reason writers based in Egypt and Lebanon, who had an essentially neoconservative outlook at a time when the rest of Reason’s staff skewed against the war–including Gillespie who was editor at the time…

      Reason’s staff at that point in time couldn’t have been any less biased. They covered the whole spectrum from neoconservative to anti-neoconservative to Matt Welch, who refused to take a position!

      They had people who cheered the war on, people railed against the war, people who refused to take a position–in equal measure!

      How could they have been any less biased than that?

    4. BTW, I finally managed to lick my own taint today.

    5. I have been watching:
      MSNBC, Al Jazeera, Fox News, and Iranian Press TV.

      All of them have been very frustrating.

    6. I have been watching:
      MSNBC, Al Jazeera, Fox News, and Iranian Press TV.

      All of them have been very frustrating.

      1. How was Press TV handling things? I imagine there was some gleeful giggling in the newsroom over this.

  9. From the 2007 Weigle article:

    The GOP field is talking like the last seven years of war and horrible blunders didn’t happen – the closest they come is McCain bitterly talking about the botched Iraq occupation. No one’s challenging the candidates’ hawkish talk about Islam and Iran, much less fact-checking it on the spot. The result of all this could be a GOP ticket that knows even less about foreign policy than Bush and Cheney.

    The Irony being that right now Obama, Biden, and Hilary look even worse then Bush/Cheney right now….and that 2007 piece was written with the purpose of putting Obama, Hilary and Biden into power.

  10. The Mob Goes Wild. Because Clutch is always appropriate.

    1. I want them to play Clutch at my fucking funeral, and spit beer all over my corpse.

      Here is Off With Their Heads doing Swingin’ Utters “Next In Line.”

      1. And since every riot needs sweep arpeggios: Children of Bodom with their own “Next In Line

        1. I once saw COB. I’ve never had more fun at a metal show.

          1. I used to work at a place here that has sidewalk seating, and my buddy used to crank Hatebreeder on the outside speakers to chase away the old people who’d sit at our tables waiting for the bus.

            If you ever walked down a “Main St.” area in p-burgh and heard COB(or Pantera, Op Ivy, GG Allen, etc) blaring over the al fresca area of a restaurant that was us.

      2. Cool song. And they should play Drink to the Dead at your funeral.

  11. Midnight at the oasis?

  12. That is some pretty compelling coverage by Al Jazeera. I can’t imagine Americans getting that worked up about anything. Oh… well maybe if you take away their american idol or Dancing with the Stars. But then again, most americans are to god damn fat to get up of their ass and protest.


    Burn like a fire in Cairo
    Burn like a
    Blaze like a fire in Cairo
    Blaze like a
    Burn like fire
    Burn like
    Fire in Cairo

    1. Was wondering when someone would reference that song.

  14. Stay tuned for continuing coverage.

    Please post the link of Mubarak’s head being paraded on a pike as soon as it becomes available.

  15. We may be about to learn about the downside of policies favoring “stability”.

    The problem is that, in practice, “stability” translates into “putting all of our eggs in one basket”.

    We overinvested in Mubarak the same way we overinvested in the Shah. We did it for long enough that now we own the Mubarak record. It looked stable for a long time, but if and when it breaks, there’s a chance it will break all the way.

    The only real way to have truly stable allies is to develop affinities of interest that make it possible to maintain the alliance regardless of the identity of the party in power. And then you have to broadcast that fact. Right now we keep reaffirming that Mubarak is our guy. I see why we the State Department might think we don’t have any choice but to do so at this point – the time to announce that we would support any legitimate government in Egypt regardless of the person of the President there was 20 years ago.

    1. The thing about alliances is that they’re a two-way street. You can only be an ally with some entity if he has some desire to be an ally with you.

      I question whether it is even possible for America (or the west in general) to adopt any policy or set of policies that could create enough affinities of interest with the greater Islamic world to ever make them true “allies”.

      We’re talking about two almost completely distinct cultures that have been in various states of conflict with each other off and on for hundreds of years.

      1. Meh, I think that is garbage.
        I spent a lot of time in Egypt, can’t say I ever met an Egyptian that didn’t admire the US, even though many disliked our support of the Egyptian dictator.

  16. Is it possible to set a pyramid on fire? I hope that ultimately, the people of Egypt throw the thugs and looters out, but it would be totally cool to watch the talking heads deliberate on whether freedom is worth the destruction of scared artifacts.

  17. I think we should just always stand for freedom and democracy.
    If the people chose to vote for Hamas, or Islamic Brotherhood, then that is their learning curve.
    Freedom is freedom to make the wrong choice.

  18. I want to see how the protesters work around the internet being closed.

  19. I want to see how the protesters work around the internet being closed.

    1. They are doing fine. They have Arabic satellite channels. And they all live on top of eachother, so word spreads quick.

  20. AJ reporting all the top businessmen and influential people have left Egypt.

    1. I wonder if Hosni Mubarak has left? And to where?

      1. A few talking heads on AJ say they think he is gone.

  21. ROFL… ruler of Kuwait giving $3k and food to every citizen for 3 months. I guess buying off your potential rioters is one way to do it.


    1. Where did I put that Kuwaiti birth certificate…

  22. I’ll just echo what others have said on this matter: this is about the Egyptian people having the right to throw away a leader they hate, and to pursue whatever form of government they care to. US interests are beside the point; there’s nothing our gov’t is going to do that can stop the current chain of events from playing out however they will. And really, that’s as it should be. I will send my best wishes to the Egyptian people that a more free place to live is the outcome of these events.

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