Just when the geopolitical landscape has begun to look more dogged than ever, here comes Egypt, prancing and preening across the world stage, licking itself clean with free and fair elections, determined to land on its cat-like feet.
By the time you read this, the Egyptian people will have spoken. The elections appear to be surprisingly free of corruption. Turnout looks to be strong, especially among women. Thirteen candidates are on the presidential ballot. Five are considered front-runners. Political parties have not yet gained enough power. There are no polls. Nobody knows who might wake up as Egypt’s new head of state. The fact that the outcome is uncertain is the most hopeful sign of all.
Although the politics of the planet’s most important new democracy are opaque, patterns have emerged. Clergy, military, and political leaders have jockeyed for power over the last 15 months, but nobody has dared to ignore the people themselves.
Dictators around the world are watching Egypt carefully. They still rule in many places, but they don’t sleep well. If Twitter or Google or Apple — or citizens using their tools — decide to question the legitimacy of a sovereign authority, then all bets are off.
“We the people” is getting its biggest boost in centuries. To celebrate, I’m getting a cat.
After a two decades of continuous dog ownership, it’s a promise I made to myself after returning from Egypt a year ago. As a household making room for both a dog and a cat, instead of only one or the other, I’ll be striking a blow for world peace, one pet store trip at a time.
I watch the news and see a pet parade of nations, oddly mixed between dogs and cats.
Egypt is looking very cat-like — unpredictable, self-determined, unwilling to be leashed or curbed or controlled by its leaders.
Except for Greece, Europe seems more willing to heel to Germany’s economic might, so long as they continue to provide security for today and hope for tomorrow.
America looks evenly divided between left and right, but it’s almost unanimous in its dog-like loyalty. We’re clearly a dog nation, when it comes to presidential politics. West Coast states are reliably blue. Southern states are loyally red. November’s electoral votes are not in doubt in most places.
But cat-nation democracies are springing up, seizing momentum.
I called Harold Hansen, whose Heeling Free dog obedience school has been held in local school gymnasiums for decades. I asked him why there are no cat obedience schools.
“Cats see humans as openers, not companions,” he replied. “Can-openers, door-openers, but that’s about it. If they can do it themselves, they’d rather.”
Then he thought for a moment more and remembered something a friend once told him. “Dogs are people-based, but cats tend to be location-based. Cats often don’t adjust well when they are moved.” Hansen has had both dogs and cats, but he usually feels like the cats have adopted him, while the dogs only want to be adopted.
Dogs give power to their owners. Cats keep it for themselves. People in democratic nations have the same choices.
A year ago, Saber El Hadry sat with me outside the Christian Catacombs in Alexandria, Egypt. Looking forward to the election that is occurring this week, he expressed little concern about the eventual winner. “As long as our next leader serves only one term or two, everything will be fine,” El Hadry stated with confidence. “Just not another Mubarak.”
Hansen and El Hadry agree. Egypt’s first freely elected president must not accept a new cult of personality. (George Washington was offered the title, “President for Life.” He refused it.) If Egyptians decide democracy and self-determination are too much work, they could accept the leash and pledge their loyalty to a dictator again. But nothing in the news points that direction.
If they recognize their location as pivotal — between continents and between epochs — and if they choose self-reliance, then a brighter future awaits them and the world. Their new leader’s job will be only to open the door.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.