$20 and a Meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken

I read a beautiful description of grace and empathy in a Washington Post article about the anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo.  This piece by Griff Witte depicts the square as the “central battlefield” of this ongoing conflict and describes the settling in of the protesters and their sense that their refusal to leave is the key to Mubarak’s removal.

What struck me was the order in the midst of chaos (food being passed out, streets being swept up from prior nights’ skirmishes with pro-government forces).  And the devout turning from chanting to prayer at appointed prayer times.

And I thought this was an interesting point: “‘Revolution is like a love story,’ said Alaa Al Aswany, the Egyptian novelist whose writings about the hypocrisy of the Egyptian government and the need for free elections have helped inspire the pro-democracy movement.  ‘When you are in love, you become a much better person.  And when you are in revolution, you become a much better person.'”

This article was an upper.  It was one of those stories that made me happy to read, even as it is about a serious, conflictual, dramatic and dangerous boiling point in history.  For the best of the human spirit was evident in it.

It had much in it to celebrate.  But what I particularly want to remember is this part (particularly the third and fourth paragraphs, between the ** below):

Those in the square say they have captured dozens of men from the pro-Mubarak side who wear civilian clothes but carry police, ruling party or government identification cards.

Demonstrators have been repeatedly attacked by such men in recent days, with hundreds of people injured and at least nine killed. It would be easy for a mob mentality to take hold.

**But the protesters show a measure of empathy for their captives. The identification cards, protesters say, show that their foes come from poor areas of Egypt, and many have confessed to being promised a reward if they try to storm the square – usually about $20 and a meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“They’re Egyptian, just like we are,” said Khalid Abdul Rahman, a 26-year-old demonstrator. “But someone’s telling them that we’re not Egyptians.”**

This gets at the heart of dealing with other people — seeing them as fellow ___________ (fill in the blank with whatever you find it hard to imagine about your enemies or those with whom you struggle).  In this case, “Egyptians.”  In many cases, “human beings.”

Walking a mile (give or take a stretch of pavement) in someone else’s shoes helps us recognize or remember where he came from — in this case from from poor areas of Egypt, and crystallizes the desperation from which many are operating (…many have confessed to being promised a reward if they try to storm the square – usually about $20 and a meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken).

That recognition brings a measure of empathy, which is no small thing in a crisis such as this one.

If empathy can break forth in Tahrir Square, it can erupt anywhere.

I know I need more of it.  This gave me hope.  God help me.

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~ by Cary on February 7, 2011.

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