The truth about Egypt — Why do we care? Why should be care?

Michael J. Totten has posted an interesting interview of Eric Trager, described by Totten as “a real expert on Egypt [who] has been more consistently right than just about anyone.” The interview is a must read for anyone wanting a short and precise understanding of what’s going on in Egypt right now, and for a glimpse into the Muslim Brotherhood, its history and its aims.

Here, for example, Trager answers a common question and makes an insightful point:

MJT: Okay, now let me ask you this. Why should everyday Americans care about what happens in Egypt?

Eric Trager: For the simple reason that Egypt is a lynchpin of American foreign policy in the Middle East. It’s important for counter-terrorism, for maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, ensuring overflight rights so our planes can deliver goods to the Persian Gulf, to check Iran’s interests, and ensure passage through the Suez Canal.

But what I’ve found is that Americans not only understand Egypt’s importance strategically, they’re fascinated by Egypt. We study Egypt in the sixth grade. We learn about ancient Egyptian history even as children. It’s mentioned in the Bible. It’s one of the few countries in the world that actually resonates with ordinary Americans.

I think that’s why the American news media focused mostly on Egypt during the Arab Spring. Democratic uprisings in other countries wouldn’t attract the same kind of attention.

In 2002 I spent time in Port Said, Cairo and on the banks of the Nile. I found the Pyramids and the Sphinx fascinating as most Americans do, but the rest of Egypt resembles a gigantic landfill, a dump. Literally. Egyptians apparently generate trash in amounts at least equal to Americans, but don’t dispose of it very well. It’s just everywhere, and a high percentage of the population tests positive for hepatitis C. There seems to be a constant shortage of toilet paper. Creature comforts can’t be taken for granted anywhere in Egypt. I made one mistake in brushing my teeth with water from the sink in a hotel room, and ended up with diarrhea and stomach cramps for the next two weeks.

The beer is good, however (imported from Italy). You can even brush your teeth with it.  In fact, it is recommended that you brush your teeth with beer if you run out of bottled water.

I did not make it to Luxor, as most American visitors do. Luxor is where 62 tourists, mostly American, were machine gunned to death on November 17, 1997 by an Islamic group known as al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Al-Gama is (was) dedicated to the overthrow of the Egyptian government and replacing it with an Islamic state. The goal of the Muslim Brotherhood has always been exactly the same.