Sunday, June 24, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Sadness


Egypt has been my home for four years (July 10 will mark my anniversary). Four years ago I never thought anyone but Mubarak or someone from his clan would be leader. I never thought I would live through a revolution. And I certainly didn’t think the Muslim Brotherhood would gain power.

The only bright side that could possibly arise from this is knowing that the first president is going to be marred with problems. So perhaps it’s best that the Muslim Brotherhood did win in order to let people become disenfranchised with them. However, what will life be like now? Will we all still enjoy the things that we love about Egypt? Will it become more extreme or will the military still rule with Moursy only acting as a figurehead?

I don’t want to play the part of furthering fear over the Muslim Brotherhood’s control. But these are concerns that everyone has. Valid because to date, the MB has gone against everything it has said. First, the MB refused to take part in the Jan. 25 revolution. However, now it claims to have been instrumental in the movement. Second, the MB said it would not have a presidential candidate and even dismissed one of its members when he was rumored to run. This was prior to parliamentary elections. Naturally, as soon as the MB garnered enough seats in parliament, all of the sudden a presidential candidate was put on the ballot.

Economically, Shafiq posed the best option for Egypt. He was instrumental in infrastructural improvements including the newest terminal at Cairo International Airport. But some say, “Just because he built an airport doesn’t mean he’d be a good president.” And yet the MB does not have one strong, economically and internationally renowned business under its umbrella. So I guess we’ll see how well it works managing an entire country.

The saddest part of the day is how everyone is now breathing a sigh of relief. Had Moursy not been pronounced the winner, violence would have immediately erupted. This should say something about the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

I was sitting at my favorite café listening to Radio Masr. I couldn’t keep up with the official results from all the governorates (numbers are hard enough to translate, much less numerous numbers being said rapidly). However, I could understand the final results. I was surprised. I was sitting alone and in tears over Egypt’s next president. This isn’t my country, but it has been my home for awhile now.

I look up and a café employee came out to smoke a cigarette. He had tears in his eyes and shook his head. He said, “Are you going to leave now?”

Letters from Egypt: 30 Minutes until Election Announcement

The countdown begins with the presidential election results to be announced at 3 pm Cairo time. Everyone left my office at 2 pm. It seems that everyone throughout Egypt left the office at 2 pm. Banks closed at 1 pm. And I have to say, everyone is nervous.

My colleague and friend said: “We are scared what will happen if the Muslim Brotherhood does not win. We are scared of what will happen to Egypt if they do win.” One of my good friends just responded on my Facebook, “I’ve never been so nervous.” I agree.

People began stocking up on food and water. I’m unsure if the same thing will happen like it did over a year and a half ago.

I left work and I’m sitting at one of my favorite cafes which is usually bustling with expats and affluent Egyptians. Right now, there’s one other Egyptian man sitting near me. We’re the only two people. My colleague asked why I couldn’t just go home. I’ve really never felt this nervous before. Well, there was that one time that we thought looters were trying to get into our building, but I digress.

A lot of people ask me why I never go to Tahrir during these days like I did during the revolution. My response is that this time it’s different. Anytime extremists become involved, situations escalate. There are many people who are angry, but have no idea why they’re angry. These sentiments lead to catastrophic results and can be potentially dangerous. And the threats that were printed throughout the Egyptian newspapers from the Muslim Brotherhood announcing how they will set fire to Egypt if Moursy doesn’t win has everyone worried.

Twenty minutes until the big announcement. Keep Egypt in your prayers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Protests du Jour

I've used this photo numerous times that I took on February 11, 2011
Fighting for the right to vote and then boycotting elections because you don’t like the options is the real setback to democracy.

Is the current situation in Egypt really shocking? I was in Tahrir on January 25, January 28 and February 11, 2011. I went alone. I walked from the Maadi Cornishe all the way to downtown, approximately 1.5 hours. And I detailed my experiences on this blog. I wrote on January 25, 2011: “They discuss poverty and the Mubarak regime, but as protests continue to rock throughout Egypt – not just Cairo – does anyone have the faintest idea as to what will be next? I asked those around me, ‘If you don’t want Mubarak, who do you want?’ They responded, ‘We want to be equal.’”

On January 26, 2011, I wrote about my cab driver, Farouq (who also had a rigged meter). He said: “’The Egyptian people are tired of Mubarak. Food is getting too expensive. [Term limits] should be made. Everyone is poor.’” Beltone Financial released figures in July 2012 that detailed the increase of food prices – up 10.84% in April 2012 and 10.81% in May year-on-year.

I asked on January 27, 2011 if the average Egyptian protestor thought about what was next. I also said: “I’m excited that Egyptians are passionate about something other than an Ahly vs Zamalak football match, and any human being deserves the right to ask for a better life.” I also pointed out that the government knew about the planned demonstrations nearly 1.5 weeks in advance and they allowed them to occur to show Egyptians that they do have the right to voice their concerns.

While I said that was possibly Mubarak’s most fatal move, it also seems that something else I predicted happened: Egyptians taking to Tahrir every time they are disgruntled with something. “Instead of the original protests that had educated Egyptians across various levels of society and industries, Tahrir Square is considered a carnival or festival. My friend Ahmed was in Tahrir on Tuesday and he said, ‘This whole revolution is bullsh*t.’ He continued, ‘Everybody here is just here to slack around.’” I also said on February 10: “I want to stress the point that it wasn’t like this in the beginning. The days that I wrote on my blog about the protests are proud moments for me and should be proud moments for Egyptians.”

However, if you take to Tahrir as has been done over the past 1.5 years every time you are disgruntled, how are any protests different and significant?

On February 11, hours prior to Mubarak stepping down I documented how for the first time in my period in Egypt, I saw Egyptians picking up trash from the ground. Not because they were told to do so, but because they took pride in it. I added: “I think that the military is giving cues that perhaps they will take control soon. Just a reminder, military rule is harder to rise against. Just ask the rest of Africa.” I wondered a week or so later: “It will be interesting in a month from now to see if people are still so anti-Mubarak and patriotic.” Oh the irony…

Then look at Egypt’s presidential history in “The Meaning of Change” which had people failing to see past the nose on their face and understanding that post-Pharaoh era has seen nothing but military rule.  “Celebrating military rule, or like many have said: ‘Anything is better than Mubarak,’ is a little hasty especially if taking into account the country’s previous rulers.” And I could go on and on through old blogs post revolution, but I think you get the point.

So onto a popular news article that is circulating among many present in Egypt: The Telegraph’s “Army Misrule is Turning Egypt into Pakistan.” First of all, the author is an academic – which for some reason many academics believe that look and comparing case studies without on-the-ground intel is enough to draw a fair and accurate portrayal. Dear World of Academia, get your nose out of the books and experience real life because the real deal doesn’t always fall under a case study. The author, Shashank Joshi, has done many comparisons like “Is Syria the Next Iraq?”

I was actually disturbed by his article comparing Egypt and Pakistan. There are many similarities and I will be the first to admit, but this rant was ill-informed and full of inaccuracies. Where is the proof to back up this (particularly the state-sanctioned rape):

“For 16 months, SCAF has gone on a rampage of state-sanctioned rape, torture, repression and misrule.”

How about: “Like most armies that think they can govern, they have driven the economy into the ground.” Not true. The Egyptian army is essentially a business. The military’s exact assets are confidential, but estimates run at about 5-45% of Egypt’s total economy. The country’s GDP in 2009 was 6.4% and dropped by 4.2% post-revolution. The military hasn’t run the economy into the ground, the regular protests du jour that have occurred over the smallest things have driven the economy into the ground.

Joshi said, “By now, Egypt should have had a parliament, a constitution and a president. It may end up with none of these.” Tunisia doesn’t have this either and Libya just delayed its post-revolution elections as well. Why aren’t they compared to Pakistan seeing as how Tunisia and Libya are both tribal countries – like Pakistan – and UNLIKE Egypt.

Then he said, “But no one came out of these with much credit, and a large chunk of candidates was disqualified on a whim.” A former military and Mubarak’s ex-spy chief was denied a chance at running in the elections as was a Salafist whose mother had a US passport (which goes against the constitution). While discrepancies will certainly occur in the first go at the electoral process, it wasn’t as though SCAF rejected claims of only ONE particular party. Furthermore, Shafiq was only appointed Prime Minister as a last-ditch effort by Mubarak to appease protestors. He served about two weeks in Mubarak’s last days and three weeks following the former leader’s ousting. That does not constitute as being a part of the old regime per se nor did he have time to implement anything within the country that people could be angry over.

And what is this: “To top it all, the election produced a horribly polarising outcome: a run-off between Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and a squalid emblem of the old guard, and Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s man.” I’m sorry, but Joshi, did you read the candidate lists and their platforms? There was only ONE official MB candidate, one “falool” (old regime) candidate, one Salafi and about 10 so-called liberals. I understand that you are a Harvard University’s Department of Government, but I suppose you don’t look at how votes are split when running a variety of candidates on the same or similar platform. Therefore, the run-offs were actually very fair if you think about it. The MB only had one candidate and only one person that for many signify the return of stability which in their minds equal someone from Mubarak’s quarters. And then for those that want real change, but without the hard-line religion, they had 10 different options to choose from. Yes, that clearly seems unfair… And clearly you did your research on Shafiq being a part of the old regime…

The basic point is that many people are complaining about their choices, but the fact of the matter is, the liberals couldn’t seem to get together and produce ONE voice. Instead, everyone wanted to stand alone and be an individual. Neither works well for a potential leader.

And what kind of potential leader says if he does not win, his party will “set fire to Egypt”? Yes, that’s really putting the country first…

Muslim Brotherhood says if Moursy doesn't win, they will "set fire to Egypt"