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Good Reads: A Calvin and Hobbes take on Egypt

Here is a survey of insightful articles on what's next for Egypt, the cost of America's obsession with security post 9/11, and how cellphones can help with disaster management.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / June 19, 2012



Egypt’s game of Calvinball

As a longtime correspondent and professor at George Washington University, Marc Lynch is a highly trained observer of Middle Eastern politics. So when he looked at the chaotic nature of Egypt’s current political scene, after the Arab uprisings, he quickly saw a pattern.

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The pattern went like this: There was no pattern.

Just when political parties and candidates felt like they were beginning to understand the system, the system changed. Parliamentary elections were held, only to have one third of the elected parliamentarians declared ineligible after the fact. Behind all these changes was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which midway through the elections gave itself more power and diminished those of any future elected president.

It reminded Mr. Lynch of the cartoon characters Calvin and Hobbes and their favorite game, “Calvinball.” Lynch writes in Foreign Policy:

“Calvinball sometimes resembles recognizable games such as football, but is quickly revealed to be something else entirely. The rules change in mid-play, as do the goals ("When I learned you were a spy, I switched goals. This is your goal and mine's hidden."), the identities of the players ("I'm actually a badminton player disguised as a double-agent football player!") and the nature of the competition ("I want you to cross my goal. The points will go to your team, which is really my team!").  The only permanent rule is that the game is never played the same way twice. Is there any better analogy for Egypt's current state of play?”

The funny part about Calvinball, of course, is that it’s so chaotic that Calvin sometimes ends up losing. That’s a fact that might give the generals in the SCAF some cause for concern, Lynch notes.

Land of the Free

Every age has a central political or social phenomenon that gives citizens a sense of focus. During the roaring ‘20s, it was the feckless abandon that came after a senseless war. The Great Depression followed up swiftly with austerity and sacrifice, World War II ushered in courage and persistence, and the cold war brought with it the “Red Menace,” in which Communist sleeper cells attempted to undermine free societies.

The central narrative of the past decade was determined by the terrorist attack of Sept.11, 2001, and the desire that Americans felt for security at all costs. This was a time when US courts allowed the most significant suspension of judicial and legal rights seen in modern times. Those suspected of terrorism could be locked up indefinitely, with very little evidence.

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