Paul Greenberg
It's as though the local police department here in Little Rock -- and
police departments all across the country -- had opened fire on those
Occupy protesters in city after city. Remember the Occupy "movement"? It
came and went so fast it's now just another blip in American memory. If it
has still has any significance, it's only as an example of the tolerance
with which a free and open society deals with youthful spirits and dissent
in general. Nothing smothers it so effectively as patience, forbearance
and respect for differing opinions.

Tolerance is wisdom, which is another great lesson of the whole American
experience and continuing experiment.

For an example of what happens when the ruling authorities misrule, or
just go mad, see the daily headlines out of ever tormented Egypt, where
equal but opposite madnesses now battle each other in the streets, and
over the dead bodies of those Egyptians caught in the middle.

All knew that the generals couldn't wait to take control again -- before
the Islamists took control of them, as in uneasy Turkey -- yet even old
Middle East hands, however accustomed to the brutishness of its military
dictators, must have been surprised at the sheer stupidity of this bunch.
For these generals are only creating another generation of martyrs and
radicals, and making their own downfall inevitable soon enough.

Or it may take years before these not-so-commanding generals are reduced
to the miserable state of Egypt's last military dictator, Hosni Mubarak,
now sick and imprisoned and despised, treated just the way he treated his
own enemies. The cycle goes on, as unchanging as the flooding and receding
of the Nile recorded from time immemorial.

This time the dead mount into the hundreds and hundreds, the wounded
multiply by the thousands, and yet all are but a harbinger of the
vengeance that will come when the political pendulum swings back like a
bloody scythe.

It is not the number of victims that captures the full horror and
pointlessness of what these idiots-in-braid have wrought, and what they
now brought over the land of Egypt like one more plague. It is the little
details that encapsulate the full scope of the generals' murderous folly.
As in this one paragraph from a wire story:

"At least one protester was burned alive in his tent. Many others were
shot in the head and chest. Some of the dead appeared to be in their early
teens. Young women assisting in a field hospital had stains on the hems of
their abayas from the pools of blood covering the floor."

One can be sure the generals' own dress uniforms remain spotless. Their
souls, if they have any, are something else. But you know their time, too,
will come. Such is the way of revolutions, and has been since the French
Revolution set the modern model with its Reign of Terror. The killers
become the killed.

In another telling detail, some medics who had set up a tent to handle the
overflow of victims from a "peaceful" demonstration turned bloody were
calling out, "Martyrs, this way!" And martyrs breed memories -- and
revenge. The pictures on the evening news could be a contemporary version
of the worn old films showing czarist police cracking heads in the streets
of Moscow or St. Petersburg. Just as the Bolsheviks would do in their
turn. Only worse.

Do the brutish ever learn? It happens in even the most fortunate of
countries; it can happen here. It did happen at Kent State, where some
idiot in authority gave the National Guard live ammunition to fire at
antiwar protests, inspiring even more. Yes indeed, Martyrs This Way!

. .

On the other side of this not-so-civil war in Egypt are the usual
jihadists crying Persecution! even as they persecute others. Unable to
take on a whole, American-supplied army, they turn their fury on Egypt's
Copts, the last remaining Christian community of any size in the part of
the world where Christianity began. Now mobs torch churches in Egyptian
city after city if they can't set the Christians themselves ablaze.
They're the new Jews, the old ones having been killed or exiled throughout
the Middle East by now. Now it is the Christians who flee into exile, if
they've had enough foresight -- or just luck -- to make it out if the
country.

As usual, it is America that profits by the infusion of all these
refugees, emigrés, entrepreneurs, and bright young people from the
troubled Middle East. It's been happening ever since the first Lebanese
arrived on these shores, bringing the good qualities of the Middle East
with them -- its code of hospitality and the kind of cosmopolitan
tolerance that once marked fabled Alexandria and beautiful Beirut, which
used to be called the Paris of the Middle East.

. .

For now the generals are in uneasy charge in Egypt as the fanatics on the
other side wait their turn at the wheel of power. The only thing to be
said at such a time may be: A Plague on Both Your Houses!

All this, too, will pass and be called History, that chronicle of man's
homicidal follies, and the whole terrible chapter will be repeated in due
time with a different cast of characters. Oppressors and oppressed will
just change places. For violence breeds only more violence, stupidities
more stupidities.

Welcome to the Arab Spring, which turns out to have been not a turning
point at all but just one more changing. The latest news from Egypt seems
a lot like the oldest. For this "new" Egypt doesn't seem all that
different from the old slave society described in another ever-relevant
source of news and opinion, the Book of Exodus.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.