Mary Beard on Events in Egypt

17:09 Thursday 3rd February 2011
Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

ANDY BURROWS: We’ve spoken over the last few days to Raph Cormack, who’s from Cambridge, and has been studying in Arabic in Cairo. He’s been keeping us updated on what it’s been like out there for the last few days. .. His almost daily dialogue with us has been rather compulsive over the last few days. We can now speak to his mother, Mary Beard, who’s a professor at Cambridge University. Good evening to you Mary.
MARY BEARD: Hello there Andy.
ANDY BURROWS: I think we can say that Raph is home, can’t we?
MARY BEARD: Yes. Raph is downstairs in the kitchen, having a beer. So, he’s home.
ANDY BURROWS: Are you pleased he’s home? You must be, as a mother I would have thought.
MARY BEARD: Well, you know, I feel very very lucky that he’s safe. It’s sad that he’s had to come home, and it’s even more sad for all the other people who either can’t get home, or .. well look, there’s a lot of Egyptians actually really suffering out there, so while we’ll be celebrating a bit tonight, I hope we’ll also keep our minds on the fact that there are an awful lot of people in a really bad way out there. We’re pleased for our own good fortune, but think about the others too.
ANDY BURROWS: You’ve been blogging, is that right, over the last few days?
MARY BEARD: Yes. I am a bit of a blogger, and I’ve been blogging about Raph’s experiences. It’s been rather interesting, because it started off, everything looked so .. well it looked as positive and good-humoured as any sort of revolution could ever be. And what was terrifying was the way that changed so suddenly. And I looked back at the blogs, yesterday I looked back at the blogs I’d written earlier, and I quoted quite a lot of the things Raph had said. And I thought, heavens, what a difference a day makes. A few days ago we were talking about the army and the protestors getting together, and people being friendly, and everybody seemed to be on the same side in an atmosphere of what appeared to be a degree of exhilaration. And then the thugs go in, and it changes instantly, and it becomes very very horrible. And I myself have been quite chilled by the suddenness, almost feeling embarrassed at what I’d written before.
ANDY BURROWS: What do you mean?
MARY BEARD: Well, you look back at that now and you think, God I wonder if it was always going to go bad. How naive was I to say this looks like a relatively friendly revolution? Maybe we ought to have been expecting this. Maybe a more cynical and worldly-wise people who knew more about Egyprian politics did see this coming. But I certainly didn’t.
ANDY HARPER: We’ve been finding the human side of this over the last few days, and witnessing these extraordinary pictures that are coming out of Egypt. But why should we care about what’s happening in Egypt? It’s hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. Why should we care? ..
MARY BEARD: You have to care about what’s happening wherever in the world, and it’s terribly easy to sit in Cambridge and to say oh that’s a very long way away. But I think what’s been great really about your broadcasts has been that you’ve got Radio Cambridgeshire actually taking this seriously, and that’s a really good thing. And we all ought to be thinking hard about what’s going on in Egypt, and if there’s anything we can do to help, how we can help.
ANDY BURROWS: I say that because we kind of know it’s important, if you see what I mean. But I’m not sure if it’s because Egypt is a country we’re very closely associated with for many many reasons. On a very base level there’s plenty of people who go there on holiday every year, if you see what I mean.
MARY BEARD: Like me.
ANDY BURROWS: Yes. Exactly. If that’s an area you connect with it, then that’s how you connect with it. But on a wider political scale Professor, I wonder what impact this will have, what kind of say, should the UK have a say, as to who governs the country next, if it’s not going to be Mubarak.
MARY BEARD: (LAUGHS) Well that sounds a slightly imperialist view. But I think many countries in the West have somehow relied on Egypt appearing to be a stable government. Actually what we now feel about that stability was that it was a stable government that was in a sense tyrannical over its own citizens. It was stability bought at a huge price. And in some ways I think over the regime of Mubarak we’ve been sort of relying on Egypt being a Middle-Eastern rock. Well I’m afraid chickens have come home to roost a bit on that. Because it never was done without a considerable degree of oppression of the Egyptian people. And I think one has to think a bit carefully about the price that other people pay for regimes that suit our own interests. I think that’s a lesson that many people have got to learn about this.
ANDY BURROWS: Thank you Professor Mary Beard. Thank you very much. Professor Mary Beard there has her son back home.