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Following turmoil in Egypt, from Stonington

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published August 21. 2013 4:00AM

One reader in eastern Connecticut who is paying close attention to the news from Egypt this week is Stuart Schwartzstein, whose son, Peter, is living and reporting in Cairo.

Schwartzstein, a retired Washington diplomat who recently moved to Stonington, is planning to visit his son soon, leaving later this week on a trip during which he will stop in England and then go on to Egypt.

Having spent seven months in war-torn Iraq in 2004, as an adviser to the minister of science and technology in Baghdad, Schwartzstein seems generally calm about the dangers his son is navigating.

In part, he told me, that's because there is not much he could do anyway to convince his son to get out of harm's way.

Peter went to Egypt in the spring to learn Arabic. He graduated from Trinity College in Dublin last year and then did an internship with Reuters news service in London. Since the violence broke out in Egypt, he's been tweeting and blogging and writing freelance pieces.

You might think a father would worry when reading tweets like this one:

@PSchwartzstein: Anti-Syrian sentiment a huge issue here. My dark hair, pale skin mean I'm frequently taken for a Syrian and aggressively questioned #egypt

Then there was the recent incident in which Peter's camera was seized by someone in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Still, I sensed a lot of fatherly pride in Schwartzstein's resolution to let his son seize an opportunity.

"I think, frankly, right now he is having a fascinating time. He is reporting for a couple of papers." Schwartzstein said. "How do you tell a 24-year-old, at an exciting time, that he's gotta leave?

"Of course there is worry, but I think he is being fairly prudent."

Peter has found a place to stay and seems to have established a big network of friends, his father said. His professional writing also suggests he quickly has gotten a good handle on the situation in Egypt.

"One thing that makes this crisis so vexing: Each of the country's major groups have done something totally horrible in the past few weeks," Peter Schwartzstein begins in a new piece published by The Atlantic.

"Almost a thousand people dead, dozens of churches burnt, its capital's most affluent districts subjected to raging firefights: Even in a region all too accustomed to conflicts of unrelenting savagery, Egypt's past week has stood out.

"It wasn't meant to be like this, of course."

The piece in The Atlantic goes on to report generally on the ongoing violence, while at the same time giving a personal account of what life in Cairo is like now. He writes, for instance, about the 80-year-old downstairs neighbor, a former deputy minister of agriculture, who is afraid to leave his apartment for a needed doctor's appointment.

He also offers up some political perspective.

"Last time, we, the West, had a dog in the fight, we rooted passionately for the beleaguered masses battling the brutal police state, cheering their demands for 'bread, freedom, and social justice,' and interpreting their triumph as evidence of democracy's irresistible allure.

"This time, however, we have no one to root for.

"The security forces, Muslim Brotherhood, and partisans of both sides have all engaged in the bloodshed while seeking to tar their opponents as inhuman."

Although Peter is in some ways a resident of Stonington, by virtue of his father's move here, he has yet to visit the new family home in Stonington borough.

He likes the town, though, having visited family friends here in the past, his father said. It was his son's inclination to like the town, Stuart Schwartzstein said, which helped convince him to move here.

Peter is planning to visit at Christmas time, his father said, for a family gathering.

If you want your grown children to visit, especially ones prone to scratch travel urges, Stuart Schwartzstein said, it helps to live in a place they like.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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