As US-backed strongmen around North Africa and the Middle East are being toppled or shaken by popular protests, Washington is grappling with a crucial foreign-policy issue: how to deal with the powerful but opaque Muslim Brotherhood. In Egypt, the Brotherhood has taken an increasingly forceful part in the protests, issuing a statement Thursday calling for Mubarak’s immediate resignation. And though it is far from clear what role the Brotherhood would have should Mubarak step down, the Egyptian president has been claiming it will take over. In any case, the movement is likely to be a major player in any transitional government.
Ben McGrath writes a shocking article in the January 31 New Yorker. Drawing partly on the extensive reporting of Alan Schwartz in the New York Times, he traces the high rate of degenerative neurological diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (A.L.S.) in football players. “N.F.L. players,” McGrath writes, “are five to nineteen times as likely as the general population to have received a dementia-related diagnosis.” On one Sunday last October, “at least eleven N.F.L. players were concussed.” Since the impact of head-to-head run-ins on the field is equivalent to minor car crashes, a knowledgeable observer estimates that 20 percent of pro players on the field are already suffering incipient dementia. Nor are these injuries confined to professional games.
The January 31 ruling by US District Judge Roger Vinson of Florida that the new health reform law is unconstitutional in its entirety was immediately hailed by Republicans and Tea Party activists, who have made overturning the law their chief goal. The second federal district court judge to invalidate President Obama’s health care law, Judge Vinson reasoned that if the Commerce Clause empowers Congress to require citizens to buy health care insurance as a means of regulating “interstate commerce,” there would be no limit to Congressional power. It could require us to buy cars, bread, or even broccoli, as all could equally be said to be economic actions that would promote commerce. Surely, Vinson maintained, there must be some limit on Congress’s power. Thus, he concluded that neither the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the authority to regulate “interstate commerce,” nor the Necessary and Proper Clause, which authorizes any appropriate means that might further that goal, affords Congress authority to regulate “inactivity,” by requiring those who can afford it to purchase health insurance.
The Fighter might more accurately have been titled The Fighter and His Family: it’s a boisterous, brilliantly orchestrated ensemble piece at the paradoxically near-still center of which is an Irish-American boxer (Mark Wahlberg), whose once-promising career, like his grim hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, is on what appears to be an inevitable downward spiral. Just nominated for seven Academy Awards—including best picture and Christian Bale as supporting actor, the current favorite in that category—the film is based on the life and career of former junior welterweight champion Micky Ward, most famous for his three brutally hard-fought bouts with Arturo Gatti in 2002–2003. It is also a group portrait of working-class Irish-Americans in a blighted, postindustrial landscape: the brawling, clannish, emotionally combustible Ward-Eklund family for whom Micky is the great hope and from whom, if he wants to survive, let alone prevail as a boxer of ambition, he must separate himself.
On Tuesday, February 1, we headed to Tahrir Square for the “million man” march with some apprehension. After a week of growing protests, the military, which had arrived on Friday, had increased its presence in downtown Cairo, and the perimeter of the square was now completely barricaded with concrete blocks and metal barriers. Just two narrow entryways had been left—each manned by a dozen soldiers and just as many civilian volunteers. Despite the soldiers’ promise not to use force, many of us who entered the square wondered if they would trap us inside, and then, perhaps even shoot. By 4 PM however—well after the 3 PM curfew set by the military—we knew no harm would come, and the protest turned into something of a festival.
The army and the protesters worked together to weed out infiltrators trying to stir up trouble, and the crowd began chanting about the people and army being one. Estimates of the turnout varied, from one million to three. There was barely an empty square foot in the entire square and adjoining streets; people sang, played cards, shared meals, and later in the evening, began to talk of holding a soccer tournament, together with the army. One Al Jazeera correspondent compared it to a rock concert. People spoke of feeling pride at being Egyptian, some of them for the first time in their lives.
The current turmoil in Egypt and the prospect of the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime apart from everything else raise questions about the country’s nuclear program and where it might be headed. This is particularly interesting since a leading candidate to head the new opposition appears to be Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who has been critical of the Egyptian program in the past.
Located near the site of its ancient predecessor, in the heart of historical Alexandria, the remarkable Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the new Library of Alexandria, which opened in 2002, has been uncomfortably close to the turmoil that now wracks Egypt, and especially Egypt’s cities. First a suicide bomber attacked one of Alexandria’s Coptic churches on New Year’s Eve, killing 21 Egyptian Christians and injuring a hundred (including several Muslims worshipping at the mosque across the street). Now, for the past week, tens of thousands of young Egyptians have taken to the city’s streets, calling for more freedom, more jobs, lower prices, and democracy, unfazed by a harsh government crackdown and episodes of violence in which some three dozen Alexandrians have been killed. So it was a great relief to read the message “To our friends around the world” from Ismail Serageldin, the director of the Library, who reports that when unrest broke out on Friday, a cordon of young people rushed to surround the Library complex (which includes conference halls and a planetarium) and protect it from vandalism.
On Thursday evening, January 27, activists in Cairo were on Twitter discussing the second wave of protests, which were supposed to begin after Friday’s midday prayer. Two days earlier, tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets and, despite a violent response by police and thugs, succeeded in occupying Tahrir Square; this time, it was hoped, many more would join in the peaceful revolt.
Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address was an organized sprawl of good intentions—a mostly fact-free summons to a new era of striving and achievement, and a solemn cheer to raise our spirits as we try to get there. And it did not fail to celebrate the American Dream. In short, it resembled most State of the Union addresses since Ronald Reagan’s first in 1982.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Americans were taught to see both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as the greatest of evils. Hitler was worse, because his regime propagated the unprecedented horror of the Holocaust, the attempt to eradicate an entire people on racial grounds. Yet Stalin was also worse, because his regime killed far, far more people—tens of millions, it was often claimed—in the endless wastes of the Gulag. For decades, and even today, this confidence about the difference between the two regimes—quality versus quantity—has set the ground rules for the politics of memory.