January 29th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President #740 'Egypt on fire'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The White House is keeping an eye on what is happening in Egypt. Probably not as intensely as they are keeping an eye out for my daily letters to the president, but still…

Dear Mr. President,

The events in Egypt certainly seem momentous. I am always amazed at how populations can sometimes bubble for years with discontent, and then suddenly boil over in a fit of smashed glass, overturned vehicles, and fires in the streets. But I think I have mentioned to you before a quote that I read in a history book long ago; it went something like, “The fundamental cause of all revolutions is the inability or unwillingness of the rulers to take seriously the complaints of the ruled.” I wish I could remember who wrote that.

Anyway, I am struck by how often that seems to be true when people and police start running at each other. Usually I think, if you consider all events, people are remarkably patient. They will endure years of low employment, weakened living conditions, and limited hope precisely because most citizens in most places realize that uprisings can be messy things; property gets destroyed, people get hurt, pets get lost, and it’s hard to figure out where things will stand when the smoke clears.

Still, when people are frustrated long enough, and feel too marginalized, they start imagining (or perhaps realizing) that they have no other choice.

It’s been suggested that it is impossible to predict when some place is going to flash into rioting and calls for a coup. But I’m not so convinced of that. Sure, it is hard to pinpoint a date, but often in retrospect it is easy to see how tensions rose, were ignored; rose higher, were pushed aside; rose still more…and finally exploded.

The secret is in seeing things not only through the eyes of the rulers, but also through the eyes of the ruled. The second is harder, because the ruled don’t sit in high level diplomatic meetings, or brief visiting dignitaries. But understanding the views of the citizens and taking them seriously is how uprisings are avoided; and ignoring them, is how revolutions are sparked.

Good luck with all your dealings with this over the weekend. Call if you can.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Mohammed

    USA and the west worry only about Israel and its security not the Egyptians who are looking for freedom and dignity.

    January 31, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  2. Amir Habashy

    Ashraf – Let’s not forget that the regime in Turkey was established by a military officer, and Turkey was single party ruled for over 22 years before it shapes the model you see now. Not to defend Mubarak as he did series of mistakes and he should have invested his experience and the support he had from the military and US better, but to have a major reform like what protestors look for now with at least half of people illiterate and 35% of people radicals it will be another Hamas. Democracy doesn’t come over night; I have to agree with Israeli officials, you need political tradition, tolerance and acceptance of other views, and existence of effective parties in addition to fair educational and awareness level and none of that exists in Egypt.

    January 31, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  3. Keesa

    Hope everything turn out ok for the will of the people of egypt.

    January 30, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  4. Rev Jimbeau

    There is an elephant in the Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia rooms. There are no women visible in any of the protests. Later I see women protesting Egypt but they are all in DC in front of the White House.
    Someone please tell me what this means?

    January 29, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  5. Ashraf Moawad

    Dear Mr. President
    The unfolding events in Egypt can have disastrous consequences; United State cannot and should not repeat the same mistakes of Iranian Revolution, your unequivocal support to the youth revolution will help create the strongest democratic regime in the region, this regime can be similar to Turkey (secular, moderate, pro-western, with enough Islamic aspiration to gain its legality), supporting the current dictator’s regime or any of its abhorred figures will bring a Taliban-like regime to Egypt.

    January 29, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  6. george sheriff

    Please Anderson I pray that the protect the treasures in the Cairo Museum. They are priceless.
    Ask how and will they try.
    thxs you are great Anderson your the man.

    January 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm |