February 13th, 2011:

TIMELESS EGYPT

With the turmoil in Egypt in recent weeks, it seems the people have spoken and decided to take charge of their destiny. I look forward to good news as they move into their brave new world. While their new story is being created, I can’t help but recall another Egyptian uprising in 1956 when I was living in neighboring Tripoli, Libya.

Americans were not immune from the world’s volatile situations, then or now: Libya was, after all, in the Middle East. At the end of October 1956, we were plunged right into the middle of the Suez Crisis. One morning in Tripoli, the school busses didn’t arrive. After an hour of waiting, we learned the Libyan drivers had gone on strike, and many small riots had started. For us students, it was an ideal way to get out of school!

Nasser, then President of Egypt, had taken control of the Suez Canal. Why should Britain and France run the canal that ran through Egypt, he reasoned? He wanted the tolls to help Egypt build the Aswan High Dam. It marked the spread of Arab nationalism, though Libya was late to that game, and Gaddafi didn’t seize power until 1969. According to some reports, the young Gadddafi took part in the riots. Good practice for his takeover later? I wonder how Egypt’s recent actions will affect him now.

In 1956, riots took place in front of the French and British embassies, and a couple of small bombs a day were set off in various areas of Tripoli. It wasn’t a full-scale insurrection, but with the heat on, the British evacuated their women and children, flying them home to England.

Americans within the city of Tripoli were put on a 6 p.m. nightly curfew and were told to have a bag with the barest necessities packed in case of evacuation. Gates and doors were to be locked and shades pulled down. We were all instructed not to venture into the old city. My mother got caught on the edges of a small demonstration near a friend’s house several blocks away. It scared her, but she was in our car and managed to leave without incident.

When you’re young, political situations don’t seem to matter. It was all just extra excitement and a chance to miss a couple of days of school. The curfew was moved to 9 p.m. within a week, and several weeks later, as things cooled off, life was back to normal. British families, however, did not return for several months.

The U.S. and USSR had put pressure on the UN,  and there was a cease fire by November 6. Egypt had scored a political victory. I had seen a preview of Nasser’s growing power when I’d spied on the party held at the Egyptian Ambassador’s residence across the street from my home. Almost like being at a drive-in movie, I watched Nasser enthusiastically holding forth on a large screen while the sheiks in attendance were a captive audience.

As an American who believes in Democracy, I say: Power to the Egyptian People!

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