The courage and tenacity of the Egyptian protesters are deeply impressive. But equally important for understanding the rebellion in Egypt is an old idea that has sometimes been dismissed in our age of globalization: nationalism. Both the protesters and the defenders of the Mubarak regime claim to be fighting for the fate of their nation.
Exactly what they mean by "Egypt" is up for grabs. The thugs who beat up protesters and journalists seem to be angry at protesters because they make Egypt look like a less than orderly and well-governed place. The protesters themselves are famously varied in their views; they seem to range from Islamists to secular democrats. But all of the people battling in Cairo and Alexandria, whether they fight for change or the status quo, seem to be motivated by a desire to shape the politics and government of the nation of Egypt. In this sense, the emergent issue in Egypt is not a simple, uniform nationalism but the appearance different nationalisms.
American concerns about Islamist radicalism have blinded us to secular forms of nationalism in the Middle East. Equally misleading is the babble that we often hear about "the end of the nation state" in a a time of global movements of people, money and images
Yet even in an age of globalization, people are willing to fight and die to define what their country might become. That's an old pattern in history, but a remarkably persistent one. We ignore it at our peril.