Maybe someday there will be an accounting of all the fictions that determined our understanding of the Egyptian revolution as it unfolded. In retrospect, it is strange that an American intellectual and political class proved so credulous during the uprising. The Egyptian media and government officials are well-known for a casual relationship with the truth, as well as a tradition of anti-Semitism in the government-owned and independent presses. It was Egyptian officials who claimed that a shark attack on German tourists in the Sinai was engineered by the Mossad, a fable regarded by the U.S. intelligentsia as darkly humorous evidence of an abnormally thwarted culture incapable of distinguishing between reality and a bogeyman engendered by fearful, childish, systemic anti-Semitism.
And yet the international media took every word that came out of the Egyptian street during the revolution as the absolute truth. For instance, there was the notion that the violence of the revolution resulted from Mubarak’s order for the police to leave their posts and throw open the jails. That such an order would be followed throughout the chain of command would be a remarkable feat in a country not known for its bureaucratic efficiency. It seemed not to occur to reporters and policymakers that in the midst of general chaos—and Egypt is chaotic in its nature—many policemen may have simply left their posts for fear of being overrun by revolutionary mobs…
So, how does Egypt, the world’s largest importer of wheat, feed itself if prices continue to rise because of a severe drought in China, the world’s largest exporter of wheat? Egypt’s new rulers need to show—by opening up Rafah, letting Iranian ships pass through the Suez Canal, brokering a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah—what a new Egypt could look like, one that would threaten to spin dangerously out of the U.S. orbit unless the Americans pay up.
This gambit is nothing new for Egypt, which performed the same ballet under Gamal Nasser during the early years of the Cold War. Nasser used the United States and the USSR against each other to get what he wanted—prestige, power, and American money.