I’m headed to Cairo tomorrow with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and concern. I’ve been preparing for this day for at least a year now, when I was turned away from the gate at Rafah (the border between Egypt and Gaza). In July-August 2011, I spent 3 weeks in Cairo waiting to receive approval from the Egyptian authorities. It finally arrived . . . on the day before my scheduled departure back to the US.
I’ve spent the past year studying the Arabic language and culture, reading more about the history and current events in the Middle East, and preparing myself, my home and my family for an extended visit to Gaza. It wasn’t easy. It feels as if I’ve juggled three balls simultaneously. (1) Raising funds to bring medical supplies to Gaza, and make other arrangements for my journey. (2) Finding someone I could trust to care for my old home during my absence, and preparing the house for a new occupant. (3) Cutting my ties and responsibilities to groups and activities in the US in which I’ve been so darn busy.
Now I’m ready to go. Or am I?
I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I have concerns and some doubts about the wisdom of an American traveling to the Middle East at this time. The riots and protests sparked by that outrageous anti-Islam video clip seem to be growing in size and intensity. The killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya, along with 3 other diplomatic staff, and the deaths of others in the wake of the violent protests, gives me pause.
There is a great deal of chaos and confusion in the Middle East now — with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu threatening a preemptive strike on Iran; with Egyptian President Morsi balancing the demands of the Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and revolutionaries who toppled Mubarak; with the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Libya; and with many people in Gaza taking to the streets to denounce Americans and Israel.
He accused “foreigners” of planning the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi. “They entered Libya from different directions,” he said, specifically identifying Mali and Algeria. “It was—definitely—it was planned by foreigners.” El-Magariaf added that the violent uprisings in Libya do not reflect the general sentiment of Libyans toward Americans: “These ugly deeds, criminal deeds that were directed against the late Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues do not resemble [in] any way, in any sense, the aspirations, the feelings of Libyans toward the United States and its citizens.”
Despite what UN Ambassador Susan Rice may say — that the protests in the Middle East, Africa, Germany, Australia, and elsewhere are linked to that outrageous video clip — the world is actually much more complicated.
Americans must learn to connect the dots. Every time Ambassador Rice vetoes a resolution at the United Nations over the objections of the vast majority of member nations condemning Israel’s violations of international law, she reinforces the widely-held sentiment among Arabs that the US government is in Israel’s pocket and will never be an honest peace-broker in the region.
Every time President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, orders another drone strike in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or elsewhere which ends up killing a mother and her 10-year old daughter and many other innocents, he reinforces the belief among many Arabs that there are two types of justice — one for Westerners, and another for everyone else.
I’m not going to be reckless and I’m going to heed the advice of friends in Cairo who are better informed about the situation. If I must sit in Cairo for days or weeks before venturing across the northern Sinai to Gaza, I will.
But I hope Americans, and President Obama, will begin to connect the dots.