What Egypt Says About Us

One in four live Egyptians in poverty. Unemployment is high, especially among the young. This young man sells fruit on a Cairo street.

The crisis in Egypt is about more than Egypt. Clearly, to Egyptian citizens, it’s a matter of life and death. All else pales in comparison.

But early news coverage in the United States revealed both a lack of substance and a penchant for simplistic commentary, pointing to our own need for global awareness and critical thinking.

Egypt’s social unrest cannot be reduced to the price of gasoline at the pumps in the U.S. (as an MSNBC cable commentator discussed early on), nor to a simple tale of good guys versus bad guys, as is often the reductionist journalistic ploy.

The oppression, abuse and corruption that have overtaken the Egyptian people make for a complex stew of social and political indignities that affect everyone in a multilayered society. President Mubarak is not only the leader who allowed corruption to grow like a cancer, he is the symbol for a host of indignities that permeate the social system and harm different people in different ways.

The Egyptian uprising is about him, but it’s about more than him. It’s about religious discrimination, but it’s not limited to that. It’s about poverty, but more than poverty. It’s about corruption, but… You get the point.

Most social conflicts shouldn’t be reduced to the stark simplicities that we often read, see and hear in too-simple reporting. It doesn’t serve us well.

When Egyptian Christians, some of whom have experienced religious persecution, linked arms to protect Muslims as they prayed in Tahrir Square, their action underscored the complexity of Egypt’s religious landscape and social context. This landscape shouldn’t be reduced to black and white simplification.

This is why I believe people of faith are called to work at being globally aware. In an interconnected world, viewing religion (or politics, for that matter) simplistically is tantamount to ignoring the transformative spirit of God in the ongoing creation.

It also risks not hearing or seeing people pleading for a more humane and just world. And that is simply unfaithful.

The world is a mysterious, beautiful place filled with unimaginable potential. It’s a place to be studied, reflected upon and celebrated, not a place to be feared and to withdraw from.

Faith calls us to participate in the world. Faith is a journey of discovery, of finding the divine spark that ignites new life in the human breast and helps us grasp the spirit of God that animates the creation.

This should be one of the lessons we learn from Egypt today.

One Response to “What Egypt Says About Us”

  1. Marty Folsom February 11, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    Larry, thanks for taking the time to share these thoughts. In today’s world, we have more lessons to learn than ever before, and perhaps la need to learn them more quickly than ever before.

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