BATED: to restrain or hold back

The only way I’ve ever heard this word used is in  reference to bated breath.  It is a common term, meaning to face a situation that requires one to show restraint in anticipation of the result.

“We watched with bated breath as the truck careened down the highway.”

The implication of the use of the word is that a disaster is about to occur.  Everyone who is watching knows it.   It’s just a matter of time before the event occurs.  Therefore, everyone “holds their breath” awaiting the outcome.

That’s the experience people throughout the world are having today as we wait with bated breath to see what will happen in Egypt.

The demonstrators in the square are demanding the resignation and exile of President Mubarak.  He has declared that he will step down, but not until the end of his term … in September.  The people who are demonstrating have said it is an unacceptable position.    There is no question that some form of confrontation will occur within a matter of days, or even hours.   Whether that confrontation is violent or peaceful is up in the air.

The implications of this conflict in Egypt are not restricted to Egypt.   Granted, the form of government which will administer the nation with the largest population in the Middle East is significant and should not be denied.   But the other Middle Eastern nations are watching the events that are unfolding in Egypt.   They, too, have unstable governments, and it is only a matter of time before some form of demonstration takes place elsewhere.   Some demonstrations have already begun in Tunisia and Yemen.

What is at stake is the allegiance of the nations that emerge.   Egypt has been an ally (of sorts) to the United States.   It is a tenuous alliance, with all kinds of problems.   But as long as Mubarak has been “in control” there has been a peaceful political relationship with the United States.  The problem is that the alliance is based on economics, but leaves all kinds of moral and ethical questions unanswered.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an alliance of Islamic groups in Egypt, is poised to play a role in the development of the country which will emerge from a transition.   That possibility makes many people nervous, fearing that a strict Islamic government will emerge which will jeopardize the fragile peace treaty with Israel and the tenuous relationship of Egypt with the United States.    That is not only possible, but maybe even probable.

Our problem in the United States is that we really do not have a strong card to play in the outcome of the Egyptian uprising.   The position of the people of Egypt is to treat the United States with skepticism.   While there are many who respect that relationship, there are even more who detest our Western influence and would love to break the relationship altogether.   The United States does not want to lose its relationship with a strategic partner in the Middle East.

Consequently, we wait with bated breath to see what will happen.  The United States is not good at waiting patiently.   We are also not good at being passive in such situations.   What is happening behind the scenes is not entirely clear, and there is speculation that the United States is exerting more pressure than is seen through the eyes of a watchful media.   But there is a tension point beyond which this country cannot go.  To be seen as manipulating the outcome of the revolution in Egypt would be a disaster in itself.

Bated breath can occur for short periods of time.  Maybe we should breathe.

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