Star Trek Novel Explores Arab Spring

With the Syrian uprising dominating world events and the anniversary of the Arab Spring upon us, I am reminded of a Star Trek novela published last year that was inspired by the overthrow of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak.

With the Syrian uprising dominating world events and the anniversary of the Arab Spring upon us, I am reminded of a Star Trek novela published last year that was inspired by the overthrow of Egypt€™s President Hosni Mubarak. Christopher Bennett's Star Trek Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within did what Star Trek has done for nearly 50 years, take real social and political events and explore them through the characters and crews of the Star Trek universe. Just as Gene Roddenberry did with the Cold War and the Klingons, Bennett, in his short novella, delves into the Egyptian uprising against the Mubarak regime.

We find in Bennett's e-book Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise crew involved in negotiations to entice the Talarians to join with the Federation in an expanded version of the Khitomer Accords, which had solidified Federation-Klingon relations in the late 23rd century (see Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country). Remembering that novels don't always adhere to Star Trek canon based on the five television series and numerous feature films, the Federation faces a new alliance called the Typhon Pact which threatens the balance of power in Alpha and Beta Quadrants. The Typhon Pact novel miniseries began in 2010 by introducing this new alliance dominated by the Romulan Star Empire, the Tholian Assembly, and the Breen Confederacy. One attractive feature of this miniseries is that it includes crossover story lines that bring together characters from Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation.

In The Struggle Within, Picard discovers political unrest in the Talarian world when female Talarians stage a protest against government leaders who they believe threaten their freedoms. Picard notes that Talarian women possess no political voice or power and that they dress in ways that discourage public interaction with men reminiscent, he says, of "the veiling customs of Earth's Middle East and the Nexanral Period of Betazed." The Talarian leader Ronzel dismisses them as a fringe group who wish to overthrow long-held traditions and customs. When Picard offers to meditate this dispute Ronzel angrily accuses him of interfering with his world's domestic concerns that Picard doesn't understand. Needing Talarian support but also concerned about the rights of its citizens reminds readers of the complicated relationship American leaders have had with Middle Eastern nations. Not wanting to give away too much of the plot, Bennett adds a twist by including an outside group that seeks to undermine Picard's mission.

Bennett further explores the Egyptian analogy by a secondary story line involving two characters not found on the television series. Enterprise security chief Jasminder Choudhury and the half-Vulcan contact specialist T'Ryssa Chen undertake a secret operation on Typhon Pact member world the Holy Order of the Kinshaya. The Kinshaya face a nonviolent political uprising that wants to promote a more open and individualistic religious environment which threatens the more oppressive theocratic Kinshaya government. The government attempts to manage the unrest by seizing control of the information networks and using Breen soldiers to crack down on the nonviolent protestors, much like Mubarak€™s military intervention in the early stages of Egypt's resistance movement. The secret Federation operation was simply to observe and offer indirect assistance to the protestors, but Chen, like many in the United States, wants to intervene and directly engage in the fight. In the end, brutal attacks on the protestors undermine the legitimacy of the Kinshaya government and success is achieved.

Christopher Bennett's novela was published in April, 2011 just as events in Egypt wound down. The analogy to Egypt is not only evident in the story, but Bennett clearly indicates it in the acknowledgments section where he dedicates his book to the nonviolent resistance movement in Egypt. While such ripped from the headlines stories are less common in Star Trek, authors and screenwriters are products of our times and, like Gene Roddenberry, often feel the need to offer commentary or encourage discourse on society's pressing problems. Alas, this is Star Trek at its best!

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A Trekkie since the days he watched reruns of the original Star Trek series from his own "captain's chair" in his livingroom, I am now a History professor at San Diego State University where I teach a class called "Star Trek, Culture, and History."