The situation in Egypt, through the eyes of An Egyptian American
I was born and raised in Egypt. In 1952, I demonstrated in the streets of Alexandria against King Farouk and for the military coup led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. I saw firsthand the corruption and mismanagement by Anwar Sadat, and I experienced the dictatorship under Mubarak. I lived in Alexandria as a University Professor and fled Egypt after several of my colleagues, with opposing views to that of the government, mysteriously disappeared. I left Egypt for good in 1968 and became an American citizen in 1974.
Since I left Egypt, I have visited frequently, almost every year. Many members of my family are still living there. I watched with great interest the successive revolutions in Egypt as part of the Arab Awakening. With apprehension, I see what General El-Sisi did to overthrow President Morsi and what he is doing now under the cover of returning Egypt to democracy.
Clearly, Egyptian patriots have led the successive Military coups in Egypt. There is no question that they were motivated by their love for their country. That includes the latest coup by general El-Sisi. However, with time and power, all of them have been transformed into dictators. I saw this with my own eyes. I was one of many Egyptians chosen to go study abroad to come back and teach at the Egyptian Universities. The Egyptian government paid all my expenses to get a Ph.D. in Chicago. In return, I had to teach for four years in Egypt, which I did. Nasser personally met us upon our return to Egypt proclaiming that we were, in his words, "the future of Egypt". At the time, I had no doubt that he loved Egypt and wanted to make it better. Yet, just few years after returning to Egypt, I had to leave the country fearing for my life.
During the 50-some years since I left Egypt, major changes in the attitude of the Egyptians towards their government occurred. Now, there is a public political sphere -- an open, pluralistic space where people from different ideological and cultural perspectives could freely compete for political power and legitimate, democratic control of the government. This never existed before. Although it is being severely suppressed, it is here to stay; there is no way back.
The Egyptians are able to express their opinions in the face of extensive police suppression more so now than they ever did. Social networks and the Internet facilitated awareness and communication among Egyptians. That enabled more consolidation and organization of government opposition. The Egyptians are becoming more educated about their rights and the different forms of government they can have. It is no longer the "run and hide' attitude we had to accept when I was a student. Today, we can still hear dissident voices amid severe crackdowns. Furthermore, Egyptians have a social cohesiveness that allows them to survive together; they are not likely to crack and splinter. There is little chance that the situation in Egypt could deteriorate into something like what is happening in Syria, Iraq or Yemen.
Of course, the Egyptians still have a long way to go before they fully understand how to organize themselves and what to vote for. It took Turkey almost a hundred years to become the working democracy that it now is. General El-Sisi will not be able to control the situation with brute force as Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak did before him. He may have some sporadic successes, but the Genie is out of the bottle. In the long run, the Egyptians will not bend to excessive force.
The latest version of the Egyptian Constitution offers some promise with its four-year presidential term, renewable only once. However, we know that that this constitution can also be easily changed, just as the one dictated by Morsi only one year ago. But what cannot be changed is the fact that the Egyptians are now more aware and more educated about governance. Suppression can work for a while but it cannot bend the real desire of the people to be free. They will be free at last no matter what. It may still take tens of years for this to happen, but the future is bright and full of potential for positive outcomes.