As my more erudite colleague Paolo Kernahan stated in his column yesterday, I too had not considered adding my comments to the situation in Egypt. Frankly, as a Trinidadian, my experience with large groups standing up for anything is more likely to mean a few thousand people packed together in a makeshift party location with deafening music and few toilets than anything to do with principles. No wonder I am loath to comment.
For twenty-nine years, the people of Egypt since the assassination of Anwar el Sadat, have had Hosni Mubarak, a former Head of the Air Force as their supremo ruler. Mr. Mubarak has survived six assassination attempts and has been re-elected on four occasions though this has less to do with popularity and more to lack of opponent due to a dodgy restriction in the Egyptian constitution which was of course, crafted by his party. Essentially, as in most Arab countries, Egypt has a passing acquaintance with Western style democracy; their elections are not based on a popularity contest where parties go out and campaign, throwing millions of dollars into advertising and who has the whitest smile. However, as with most of those Arab regimes, there has been unstinting support from the poster child of democracy, the US, for the incumbent. As one commentator from the Middle East wryly pointed out, how can you expect ideals of democracy from someone who has basically ruled as a dictator for thirty years?
But all good things must come to an end and it would appear that Mr. Mubarak’s ride might well be over despite his last desperate attempts to cling to the status quo. It is reminiscent of the movement in East Germany, also driven by the economic imperatives that brought down to Berlin Wall. It would seem, that at some point, as a leader, you will be made to live up to your rhetoric; at least in some places. For the last three weeks, like everyone else in our shrinking global village, watching with awe as throngs of people show up everyday in Tahrir Square to support their cause I’ve remembered what having a cause means. My view of the world is coloured by early formative memories of seeing other protests in first black and white and then the magic of colour TV and of course, even various coups etc here in the West Indies. People of my generation and earlier know what it is to have principles and to stand up for them and commit to a cause.
Once again I’m taken back to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, referred to in much of the world as "the Tiananmen Square massacre and in Chinese as the June Fourth Incident (in part to avoid confusion with two prior Tiananmen Square protests), were a series of demonstrations in and near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in the People's Republic of China (PRC) beginning on 14 April 1989. Led mainly by students and intellectuals, the protests occurred in a year that saw the collapse of a number of communist governments around the world." The iconic images of tanks rolling over university students was particularly poignant as I too was a university student and questioned whether I would have the nerve to do as they did. Fortunately, like most people in my part of the world I’ve never had to find out but given my internal knowledge and past experience, my participation would be guaranteed.
And so, applying the example of principles to the current state, though there is no repressive government here, we enjoy the democratic popularity contest of free elections; our problems are caused more by lackadaisical attitudes and poor decision-making. Trinidadians complain all the time, about crime, about the aforementioned poor decision-making etc. And yet, our willingness to do more than complain is tempered by two choruses of “wine to the side” or “ I is a Trini” while being exhorted to move left or right while waving a hand in the air. Social scientists have long posited that due to the Trinidadian propensity for treating lightly with important things and reducing all our references to the national festival Carnival, we escape the responsibility of taking an active role in addressing our problems. Take for example the crime issue. If crime were so serious and we felt so bad, perhaps we would consider giving up Carnival for two years while powers that be devote all the time energy and resources to making tangible inroads.
What you say? Is now you want Trini to riot! No all-inclusive fetes! No costume in Yuma or Tribe! No banal, inane, barely literate entertainer exhorting you to do something faintly obscene while throwing in a few patriotic references to make you feel less ashamed. Before you think me a Carnival hater, it is quite the contrary, far from it. Frankly, I used to love the energy, the constant activity, the innovativeness and wonder of design, the people watching.
However, our willingness to constantly find distractions instead of facing the hard decisions and preparing for the long haul is really driving me nuts. My ability to enjoy a fete is tempered by worrying about my car being broken into outside, whether I’ll be safe getting into my house, whether someone will get shot or robbed or whether some drunk person is driving down the highway with me. Lest you think I exaggerate, listen to the Parliament channel; the crime issue is constantly referenced there.
Average spent on Carnival activities: $650 per person per fete, fete outfit -$450 (a top!), costume -$3,500 (regular section), gas money, “vex” money, etc. Add it up, people take loans to cover Carnival which by the way, happens every bloody year with the same parties, the same music, pretty much the same everything, heck, even the costumes look the same due to extreme laziness on the part of the so-called designers. But yet, we continue to shell out and then spend the rest of the year complaining about how bad it is. Government resources are expended including those of the much-beleaguered police force. Is it really worth it? I suppose those who make their revenue off of Carnival would say yes.
It would be extremely poor of me to compare our situation with that of the people in Egypt. They have legitimate reasons to demand a change and have stood by the courage of their convictions. But is it so wrong for me to wish that people here would become a little more serious, grow a spine and approach our issues with the single-mindedness that they party?
(photo from the Huffington Post more images can be found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/31/egypt-protest-photos-sunday)