The first time I went to Egypt, also in 2005, I met the same kinds of people I met in Lebanon. Cosmopolitan, liberal-minded individuals who were like Arab versions of me. Egypt had nothing like Hezbollah controlling large swaths of the country and warmongering against the neighbors. No foreign army smothered the country. Instead it had a police state. The narrative there at first seemed to be: democrats against the regime. That’s what it looked like. But my experience in Lebanon prompted me to ask a question of my liberal Egyptian friends that seems not to have occurred to some of the other journalists and Western internationalists who have been there. I asked these Egyptian liberals, “how many Egyptians agree with you about politics?” The answer stopped me cold: five percent at the most.

These people felt profoundly alienated by their own society, but it didn’t seem to occur to them to tell me about it until I asked. Perhaps they thought I knew that already. And of course they knew they were a tiny minority. How could they not? They belonged to a smaller minority than a Republican in San Francisco or gay feminist activist in rural Utah. It isn’t possible to be so out of step with everybody around you and be clueless about it, at least not before the Arab Spring started…

Kaplan is quite right that Western internationalists often don’t like to see what’s going on outside elite bubbles in distant societies. I also prefer not to see it, but I can’t help seeing it anyway. It’s unpleasant, but I force myself to look anyway? It’s not going away. And it’s not at all hard to see if you take the time and effort to look.