Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Letters from Egypt: The Meaning of Change

Gamal Nasser, Corbis Images
The majority of Egypt celebrated when Hosni Mubarak relinquished his leadership position, and everyone supported the military. And then I’m reminded of a point I’ve made in previous blogs: do Egyptians know their own history? So proud to be called Egyptian, but ask many the simplest things about their own history and they’re unable to answer.

If they knew their own history or at least used history as a point of reference, then perhaps Mubarak’s concession not to run in the next election would have been enough. 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.

Anwar Sadat, AFP/Getty
Gamal Nasser and Anwar Sadat met in military school during British colonial rule. They helped rid colonialism in the country and King Farouk’s thrown with Nasser becoming the first president of Egypt. Under Nasser, the Egyptian economy remained poor as a result of continuous wars and literacy was less than 50%. Sadat became the Public Relations Minister and succeeded Nasser after he died in 1970 and prior to 1981, the literacy rate remained at less than 50%. Hosni Mubarak was a lieutenant in the Royal Egyptian Air Force and was Sadat’s Vice President. When the Nobel Peace Prize winner for brokering the peace treaty with Israel was assassinated in 1981, Mubarak stepped into power and enacted Emergency Law.

Hosni Mubarak, AFP/Getty
And that law has been in place since Mubarak stepped into power, granting the government the right to charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court. In 2010, the government – led by Mubarak’s NDC party – opted to extend the law for two more years, but would only enforce it to stop terrorism and drug trafficking. Since the government had the right to make any accusation against any opposition leader, every offense could be considered (or at least doctored to appear as such) an act of terrorism and/or drug trafficking.

On February 11, it was reported that the military said the law would be lifted as soon as “current circumstances end.” Right.

The law remains in effect with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces indicating that it needs six months to find a balance – using the 2010 reasoning of fighting drugs and terrorism as the reason for its continuation. Around 23,000 people have been arrested under the law since 1981, according to the Human Rights Organization for the Assistance of Prisoners – estimating that 5,000 are still being held.

I make no qualms about how change doesn’t happen overnight, but I still have to wonder if change is really going to happen at all. Think about it – the ONLY presidents this country has EVER seen were from the military. People rejoice over military rule now (despite the unclear picture as to whom is actually in control), but if the military rule was so great – wouldn’t the past three leaders have offered something more?

Brief Recap:
  • Every Egyptian President has originated from the military
  • Nasser – great military leader, but caused Egypt’s economy to plummet with a number of military wars (as well as countless war casualties)
  • Sadat – economy and literacy levels remained stagnant, but peace and other important bilateral relations were achieved which offered stability
  • Mubarak – economy flourished from approximately $40 billion in 1981 to $145 billion currently; literacy levels have reached over 60%; large division between the rich and poor continued with the corruption running rampant
I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but the likelihood of another military ruler is a great one. In the meantime, here’s to the military’s attempt to organize a referendum on the constitutional reforms before the end of March followed by parliamentary elections in June and a presidential election six weeks later.

Until then, can someone please tell me who’s in control? Anyone?

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