Okay, so this post is really late. There's been so much other stuff going on that I haven't gotten around to writing this post in a timely manner, so I was tempted to not write it at all, but I can't really do that. I was reading blogs from RedState when I came across this amazing entry, which reminded me of how great the United States is and how many freedoms Americans enjoy (as well as how many freedoms are being attacked by some of our politicians). It brought to mind something that I felt at the embassy-sponsored 4th of July celebration here in Cairo, so I have to tell you about the celebration.
It was held on the campus of the British International School here in Maadi, out near the commissary. It was open, free of charge, to all American and Canadian passport holders, as well as to their guests who had registered ahead of time. There was a band, there was free food (hamburgers and hotdogs, I think prepared by the Marriott), there were door prizes and games, there was a full-service bar (not free of charge) operated by the Marines . . . a good time was had by all.
Some of the door prizes were really spectacular -- free round-trip tickets for one anywhere in the world, for two anywhere in the States (a particularly good prize for many expat Americans who can afford to go home only once every two, three, or more years). Others were more in line with what you'd expect: free bowling, gift certificates to local restaurants, free temporary gym memberships.
When we first arrived at the celebration, we had to park a good little distance away and walk back to the entrance, just because there were so many people there. We passed many police officers who obviously were there for our security. You can imagine how tempting it would be for certain groups to interfere with such a large gathering of Americans in a relatively unsecured location. The Egyptian police were there to make sure nothing happened to us, which I appreciate. But it reminded me that I see these police officers a lot around here, and they aren't the same as American police officers. Egyptian officers, at least the ones who are not traffic cops, look much more like military personnel to me, and they remind me that Egypt is not a free country. Apparently some of the restrictions are being loosened--newspapers now criticize the government routinely--but there are definite limits that would be unheard-of in the States. For example, there is no discussion of President Mubarak's health in public forums (at least from what I've been told, not being able to understand the Arabic newspapers myself). As expats here, especially as expats affiliated with the embassy, we tend to live in a bubble. We see the police officers, but we know that they're there primarily to protect us; we don't experience any real limitation on our freedoms. It's very easy to forget that Egypt is a police state.
While we were at the celebration, I noticed throughout the evening that, despite the security we had passed on the way in, there were areas where Egyptian citizens were congregating to see into the field where we were. The school borders a sporting club, so people in the stands there were congregating at the edge where they could see in. There also was a building, maybe an apartment building?, where people were congregating in the open stairwell and at the windows overlooking the field. I noticed this but didn't really think too much about it until the end of the evening.
The celebration closed with a rendition of "God Bless the USA." I'm sure most of you know the words, but just in case there's a reader or two who isn't from the U.S. or who doesn't know the words, the chorus goes like this:
I'm proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died
To give that right to me.
And I'll gladly stand up
Next to you
And defend her still today,
'Cause there ain't no doubt
I love this land--
God bless the U. S. A.
As we sang that song, I looked around at the people in the stairwell. It hit me that they couldn't say "at least I know I'm free." In the United States, we know that no matter what else happens, at least we are free. We are free to worship as we see fit (and to share our faith freely, and even to change our faith if we want). We are free to keep and bear arms. We are free to criticize and protest the government to an almost unlimited degree, even to the point of removing leaders from power--think gubernatorial recalls, impeachment efforts, even simple elections where the incumbent is voted out. Egyptians don't have the same freedoms that we so often take for granted.
I've been told that as the U. S. presidential race heats up moving toward November, I should expect Egyptians to display an incredible amount of interest in this particular race and in our political system in general. They have no experience with elections that aren't rubber stamps. It's beyond conceivable that two candidates are engaged in a struggle for the office of President and that the people will choose the winner. Can you imagine that concept being anything other than normal for you? I can't.
So as Jeff and I prepare to request our absentee ballots, I'm reminded to think about what those ballots actually mean, what they represent. I'm thankful that I was born a citizen of a free country. I thank God for my freedoms, and I thank the men and women of the U. S. Armed Forces who preserve those freedoms.