Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Arab Protests: Watching from the Wings

A close friend is reporting live from Cairo this weekend. She traveled to Egypt by way of the Sinai, riding the bus route from Jerusalem I once tried myself. As she covers the most fascinating development the Arab world has seen in ages, I count the days left to my brief vacation from the army. The time off allows me to follow the ever changing events that are enveloping Israel's neighbors: Egypt, Jordan and other Arab regimes faltering in the face of mass protests, Lebanon falling under the sway of Israel's inveterate foe Hezbollah, and the moderate Palestinian leadership rocked by the release of confidential diplomatic discussions with Israel.

With so much going on in the Middle East, I have a hard time accepting how distant I am from ongoing events. Part of the reason I relocated to Israel from Washington was a desire to switch from observer to participant. Here I could play a role rather than describe the action from the sidelines. The army would thrust me into the middle of events, forcing me to come to grips with a conflict from within. No more would I scan the internet from afar and wonder how places and persons I once knew are redefining reality.

Ahmad and the Mogamma have not been part of my world for two years now. In January 2009 I said goodbye to a Cairo whose streets were still raging with daily protests against Israel's attack on Gaza. The logistics of leaving were so simple: a Thursday night bus from downtown Cairo dropped me off at the Taba/Eilat border crossing with ample time to spend shabbat in Jerusalem.

The memories of Egypt's capital have been harder to leave behind. Were it not for my military status, I thought every time I rode a bus during this week's break, I would be back in Cairo right now. Reconnecting with young Egyptians who are finally voicing the dreams they shared with me two short years ago.

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