When the Arab Spring arrived in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Western progressives thrilled to the advance of democracy. New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof camped out in the square to breathe in the heady fumes of democracy on the march. When CBS stupidly sent correspondent Lara Logan to the scene, the results were more like a nightmare.
Journalists had not noticed that Egyptian men had been leading the world in molesting women. Yet, the same journalists thrilled to the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, and ignored the way women were treated under the Sharia Law that Morsi promised to implement.
Anyway, Morsi was overthrown by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the new government cracked down severely on the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist organizations. What happened next shocked the delicate sensibilities of a New York Times reporter. The people of Cairo started acting more normally. They started working out and getting in shape.
Needless to say, the Times was befuddled. Even some Egyptian intellectuals were befuddled. There must be a political explanation for the way young people, in particular, had given up on revolution and had embraced fitness. There must, in short be something wrong with them. If they were working out more it must be a sign of fascist repression.
Leave it to the Times, in a news story, to denounce the wish to be healthier as a sign of political oppression.
Here is the way the Times reported the news:
CAIRO — Egypt’s young people have once again taken to the streets. This time, though, they are in spandex and on bicycles, in kayaks and sculls on the Nile, doing street workouts in the slums of Giza or CrossFitexercises in makeshift rooftop gyms.
More than five years after overwhelming numbers filled Tahrir Square in Cairo, deposing President Hosni Mubarak, and three years since the military crackdown that ousted the elected Muslim Brotherhood president and jailed protesters by the thousands, a fitness craze has taken hold. It is a stark departure for a nation that is the 17th most obese in the world, where fast-food joints proliferate and smoking is still the norm in restaurants — and everywhere else.
Egyptian squash players are among the best in the world, and privileged families have long pushed their children to take up sports, but the new focus on fitness is drawing in people from all classes, with substantial numbers of women, too, and is more about exercise for exercise than about games or competition. Many Egyptians see it as a direct outgrowth of the withering of the political revolution under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that young people are no longer wasting their time tilting at windmills. Perhaps it’s a good thing that they have given up on political revolution. Perhaps it’s about time that they got down to work building their country’s economy. Perhaps getting in shape will help them to work harder and more effectively.
About these matters the Times has nothing to say. It wants to promote revolution. And perhaps a return of the Muslim Brotherhood:
“Why now, and where does this come from? Clearly, it’s connected with the withdrawal from public life by young people,” said Ezzedine C. Fishere, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo who has seen the trend take hold in his family. Professor Fishere said he goes to the gym regularly, his daughter wears a Fitbit and his ex-wife works out, too.
After the military crackdown, he said, “everyone who had participated in 2011 started to move to the private sphere, some took refuge in depression, some in nihilistic activities and many in fitness — not just fitness, but taking care of oneself.”
Professor Fishere has a political explanation. He teaches political science and seems to believe that politics explains everything. He has nothing to say about the need to get the Egyptian economy running and that people who are completely out of shape will probably not have the energy to do so.
Instead, he denounces the authoritarianism—i.e. fascism—of President el Sisi:
Traditionally, Professor Fishere noted, authoritarian governments have been interested in promoting sports and physical culture. And in this case, it was a relief valve on the pressure cooker that is the Arab street.
“This is a safe area for both, an area the regime is willing to support,” Professor Fishere said. “And for the youth, it’s a good outlet for their energies.”
Others see things differently, and more clearly:
The Egyptian Rowing Club, one of many with boathouses on the Nile, is so busy that there is often a waiting list for the club’s sculls and kayaks. Even so, Abeer Aly, a board member, says she thinks the increased popularity is just a sign of the times worldwide. “I can’t see the correlation between youth revolution and fitness events,” she said. “I just see a trend of people practicing and enjoying rowing, cycling and other things a lot more.”
For that we need no political explanations. Good habits do not need to be undermined by intellectuals who are looking forward to the next revolution.
You have to wonder, given the history of the twentieth century, why the idea of revolution maintains its mystique? And whatever made them think that an Islamist government was radical or progressive? Do they really believe, with out president, that the ayatollahs in Iran are true revolutionaries? Weren’t these intellectuals supposed to be the smart ones.