Protesting: On Egypt and America

In Egypt yesterday, just one year after President Mohammad Morsi’s inauguration, an estimated one million Egyptians protested across the country for his ousting.  President Morsi, seen as a fresh start for the Egyptian people such a short time ago, has had one hell of a first year.  The year included a high rise in gas prices coupled with a failing economy, tension with police and the military, and effectively granting parliamentary control to the Muslim Brotherhood, his biggest backers.  Now the Egyptian people seem to have truly had enough of their slide back under the thumb of a man with questionable ability to justly lead the nation.

Tahrir Square yesterday. THAT is a lot of people. Photo credit Reuters.

Tahrir Square yesterday. THAT is a lot of people. Photo credit Reuters.

The protests around Egypt yesterday were even larger than those in 2011 when former ruler President Hosni Mubarak was ousted.  Now I wasn’t in Egypt for those protests but I was apart of the Boston march in support of the protests. Let me tell you, if that was just an infinitesimal fraction of the action in Egypt, then I can’t fathom how insane it must have been then, let alone now.  The New York Times has reported that at least seven are dead so far, including one American student, and that numerous Muslim Brotherhood buildings have been set ablaze with the police in open revolt and the military essentially staying out of the fight.

What strikes me as most amazing about all of this is the unbelievable passion and zeal of these protesters.  Now I realize that the United States and Egypt are two incredibly different places in regards to history and geopolitical weight, but is it wrong that I’m almost sad that I don’t believe anything even close to these protests could ever happen in the modern United States?

To put this in perspective, this last protest in Egypt had an approximate 1 million citizens involved.  Egypt currently has a population of about 82.5 million.  Seems like a small fraction right?  Well, look at it this way. The March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. back in 1963, arguably the most iconic American protest of the last century, had an estimated 250,000 demonstrators when our population at the time was about 180 million.  So while yes, only about 1% of Egypt was out protesting and rioting last night, that’s still a massive number when you consider that the March on Washington was only a tenth of 1%.  Imagine if 1% of the United States went and rioted in Washington to oust the president over something like, say, the NSA spying on millions of Americans and apparently our European allies too, that’d be 3 million people.  I’m pretty confident there weren’t even 3 million people involved in the national Occupy movement.  If you think about it, there’s a certain irony to the “99%” being unable to even garner 1% of the population’s support against the “1%.”

I digress.

So why is the United States so incapable of staging a protest on such a colossal scale?  I don’t believe it’s for lack of political passion or an ill-informed population.  We have the Tea Party and Occupy did happen regardless of its overall lasting impression.  Even though we live an incredibly comfy life on a global scale, we still have popular political pundits calling for heads on a nightly basis to energize our protest batteries.  Let’s quickly look back at what led to other larger US protests in history.  The Civil Rights Movement and March on Washington took YEARS to grow and organize enough to garner such support and that was for human rights and racial equality.  The anti-Vietnam protests were due to a decade long war that we were losing (sound familiar?), a war that most the country, called the Silent Majority, actually supported. Even Occupy was the result of a massive housing burst, bank bailouts, and a completely out of touch Congress.  Yet none of these garnered the millions of protestors we see in Egypt and around the Middle East since the Arab Spring.

My best guess is simply the scale of the United States.  If you’re one of those people who grew up in New England let me be the first to tell you that you have ZERO idea how big this country is.  Massachusetts is tiny.  Like, painfully tiny for a state.  To again put things in perspective, Egypt is a big place.  It is one of the biggest countries in the Middle East region.  Egypt is also only about one and half the size of Texas or about half of Alaska.  The United States is a BIG place.

US noms on Egypt.  Photo Credit: Rand McNally & Co.

US noms on Egypt.
Photo Credit: Rand McNally & Co.

I know I am blessed to live in America.  I am blessed to have political stability, affordable food, and a police force that, the vast majority of the time anyway, cares about my safety.  However, I wonder what it would take to eventually snap that cushy existence?  What would be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back?  What would get millions of people from all over the country with every background and political ideology to Washington to protest in front of the White House and Congress? How desperate of a situation would be necessary? I can’t help but think it would take more than even the situation in Egypt to get Americans off their couches on a Tuesday night (The Voice is on!), gather in mass on the streets, and maybe set some cars on fire.  1790’s France, we are not.

So what do you think it would take? What would be the ramifications of such a massive protest?  Would a country the size of the US be able to handle such a politically dire situation wherein our president was thrown out without another immediately ready to step up? Let us know below in the comments!

Edit: I’d just like to say that I am a big advocate for peaceful protest. Don’t set people’s stuff on fire.  Thank you.

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