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.
For real success, not only in Egypt but also in the wider Arab and Moslem world, some form of societal reconstruction needs to be formed to amalgamate Modernity with Islam. This should include more progressive roles for women and greater respect for human rights and dignity. Moves in this direction are already taking place. This can be achieved without affecting the basic tenants of the religion itself. The Arabs and Moslems cannot be ruled today by what was in place fourteen hundred years ago. At the same time, the United States, and the West in general, should realize that Islam would be part of the equation in the same way Christianity is part of the equation in the West.
In the meantime, it would be best for everyone if the United States could be as uninvolved as possible. It is unfortunate that the US Government always wants to meddle in everyone else's affairs. In Egypt, the US government sided with all different rulers, most of the time against the interests of the Egyptian people. It first sided with Nasser (who rejected the US after its refusal to finance the building of the Aswan Dam), then it sided with Sadat, then with Mubarak, and then with Morsi and now with El-Sissi. The successive US administrations talked, and still talks, endlessly about freedom, democracy, human rights and human dignity but act against what they preach. The American Administrations will support autocratic leaders if they believe they will serve US interests irrespective of what may be good for their people. In doing so, the US administrations ensured the enmity of the Egyptian public.
On top of all that, the US administrations will side with Israel in all matters, irrespective of what is good for the Egyptians, the Arabs, the Moslems or even the American people themselves. This one-sided approach destroyed the neutrality of the United States in the eyes of the Egyptians and raised suspicions that Washington does not really care about anything other than serving Jewish interests in the US congress.
Perhaps, Washington is not really in favor of promoting democracy in Arab Lands and prefers to deal with dictators that can unquestionably follow its commands. In a real democracy, the government will reflect the will of the people. If that were the case in Egypt, the peace treating between Egypt and Israel will be abrogated sooner than later. This is not what the United States Government wants. Furthermore, western-type democracy might not work well in the Arab/Moslem world; just look at Iraq in the aftermath of the American-imposed democracy.
In summary, the future for Egypt and the Arabs in general, remains bright, despite the hiccups that are happening at the moment. Revolutions to replace tyranny with democracy take a long time and are not always smooth. In Egypt we are just at the beginning of the process. As sure as the next day, and in spite of US interference, democracy in Egypt is certain to flower.