Alright, so I know I’m not in Egypt anymore and really am in no place to provide updates on what’s going on on the ground there… But I’ve been receiving requests from several different people to provide an explanation of the situation and some insight into what we can expect… So I’m putting together a little FAQ of the questions I’ve been getting and the answers I’ve been giving, based on what I learned during my time there and what my contacts on the ground are telling me now. Now, please note, I only spent 5 months there and I’m not there currently so I’m really not an expert on this… I highly encourage you to seek out further information from more knowledgeable sources (I’ll provide a list at the end here). Also, if you are IN Egypt and can provide more information/ better answers, I invite you to join in the conversation. If you are not in Egypt and have further questions that don’t appear here, I invite you too to join in by using the comments box below.
1) What is the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood is a small religious group that was founded in Egypt in 1928 (I think?). Up until the revolution, they were banned by the various secular dictatorial regimes that ruled the country. They continued to work underground though, doing, I’m told, a lot of grassroots charity work, providing aid to the poor, marginalized people living in rural areas. Though they made attempts to get into politics, they were consistently shut out. Until the revolution. For the first time, the door was wide open for them to nip this secularism stuff in the bud and bring the country back to God by forming the Freedom and Justice Party (though the latter is officially not affiliated with the MB). Enter Morsi. Thanks to 90 years of work behind the scenes, the Muslim Brotherhood were able to convince those people they had helped that they ought to cast their ballot for them– and they may or not have led them to believe they would go to hell if they didn’t vote for God’s candidate. (Reminds me somewhat of conservative Christians and the Republican party in the US… but that’s for a different blog I suppose). So Morsi won. And when he did, so did the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been ruling the country through Morsi since his rise to power– or at least that’s what the opposition will tell you.
2) What has Morsi done to make everyone hate him so much?2
I personally can’t speak to Morsi’s character… But when I look at him on TV, I don’t see a tyrant or a villain, despite what some of my more zealous opposition friends might say… I just see a bad president. He was handed a huge mess and has done a pretty great job of mishandling it– and the Egyptian people have had no patience for him. It didn’t help that a huge chunk of the population hated him to begin with and was irked that after all their work to oust Mubarak, they ended up with a President they didn’t like… (imagine canvassing all summer for your favorite presidential candidate only to see someone you strongly disagree with come to power… and multiply that feeling times a hundred). So they jumped on his every blunder (and there have been quite a few) and in one year, have managed to turn a big percentage of those that voted for him against him.
So I would argue that what we are seeing now is more the result of steady campaigning and protesting by the revolutionaries who didn’t want to see Morsi come to power in the first place than it is the result of anything Morsi himself has done since coming to power.
That being said, he hasn’t done a great job. Some of his biggest errors include: pushing the boundaries with the judiciary and acting outside the legal limits of his power as president (for a list of his squabbles with the judiciary, check out: http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/06/29/timeline-of-morsi-and-the-judiciary-one-year-in-power/), making a series of promises he knew he couldn’t keep– and not keeping any of them, drafting and passing a pretty awful constitution that fails to outline protection for women, the press, and freedom of speech among other things, and allowing his police to abuse and repress his people when they gathered to protest against him. Since he’s come to power, the economic situation has also deteriorated rapidly, bringing the country careening toward bankruptcy, and the country has depleted its natural energy reserves without the means to really buy more leading to a worsening fuel crisis.
Now I doubt that most of these problems are the results of actual decisions made by Morsi himself but he’s the figurehead and thus the scapegoat. He gets blamed for everything that goes wrong. And I mean everything (“damn this traffic! it’s gotten way worse since Morsi came to power!”). Morsi is not Egypt’s biggest problem in my opinion, but he has come to represent all her woes.
3) What is Tamarod?
“Tamarod” (meaning “Rebel”) is a campaign that was launched by the opposition in my last few weeks in Egypt. I remember seeing black and white sheets of paper with the word “Tamarod” on them in big bold letters beginning to circulate around the city. It wasn’t long before I saw piles of them in nearly every shop and corner store, pasted on walls around the city… On these flyers was a small paragraph outlining the campaign’s goal: to collect 15 million signatures showing a lack of confidence in the president and calling for early elections by the 1 year anniversary of his election. Next to the paragraph was a form where you filled out your information and signed your name. I was there when the movement started and I have since gotten to watch it grow and spread throughout the entire country, gathering steam and momentum as it went along. By last count, they had gathered 22 million signatures.
Now, there was some question as to the legal potency of this petition… Constitutionally, it’s debatable whether the president can call for early elections and whether the supreme constitutional court could do anything much with these signatures. But regardless, the campaign accomplished something pretty major: it mobilized a huge mass of people to join in voicing their displeasure with the current government. The result: millions all across the country took to the streets yesterday with one word on their lips: “Irhil”… Go.
4) I saw that an American student got stabbed a few days ago… Does this mean Egypt is no longer safe for Americans?
My heart goes out to this student’s family and loved ones… that could easily have been me and I can only imagine the heartache it would have inflicted on my family. While I was in Egypt, I chose on a few occasions to attend protests for work. Every time I went, I went knowing that there were risks involved. I tried to choose demonstrations I thought would stay peaceful but I knew there was always the possibility that things could go awry and I could get stuck in it. I also knew there was additional danger to me as a foreigner and a woman. I knew these risks and I still chose to go because I believed I ought to, though I took as many precautions as I could. As a result, I put myself in a few hairy situations that could have gone very wrong for me. I thank God for looking out for me and keeping me safe.
That being said, in those circumstances, I could have easily avoided all risk and danger by simply choosing not to attend the protests. They were always pretty contained and I knew exactly where to be and where not to be. If I chose to be somewhere dangerous, it was a calculated decision, as I’ve already said.
From what I’ve read, the American student was stabbed at an Islamist protest in Alexandria. We will never know why he was there at that time, but I’ve seen no evidence that he was coerced into being there and so we have to assume that he chose to be there. He seems like he was a brilliant guy, with a real heart to understand the Arab world and I’m sure he went with the best of intentions. But I’m also sure that like me, he got plenty of emails from the State Department, his university and his parents telling him of the dangers of protests, and chose to go nonetheless. I do not condemn him for going or blame him in any way for his death– he shouldn’t have died and the people who killed him should be prosecuted, along with all of the thugs, extremists and police who have killed hundreds of other Egyptian protestors these last few years. But his death could have been avoided altogther if he had not been at that protest to begin with. If he had been anywhere else in the city.
Protests like the ones going on right now are highly volatile, risky situations no matter who you are or what your reason is for attending them. But they are also highly contained, and one can pretty much eliminate all risk of harm by simply steering clear of them. So… Are Egyptian protests safe for Americans? No. They aren’t safe for anyone. Anything can happen. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the country where people aren’t protesting isn’t safe. At least that’s how it was when I was there.
5) What can we expect to happen now?
I have no idea. I’m on the edge of my seat, watching all of this unfold on Twitter and chatting with my friends on the ground on Facebook. In case you haven’t heard, the Egyptian military, which had vowed to stay out of politics, announced today that they were giving the presidency 48 hours to respond to the demands of the people, since such a huge wave of protest couldn’t be ignored. As I type this, the presidency is in an emergency meeting with the Freedom and Justice Party to figure out what to do.
Right now, it would seem the masses want nothing short of a military coup to take Morsi from power. But they seem to have forgotten that just over a year ago, they were cursing the military for ruling the country with corruption and injustice and demanding they put into power a democratically elected president. If the military DOES step in and oust Morsi, there will be huge rejoicing– but with this ultimatum now in place, there’s an ominous question looming: then what? I’ve yet to hear a well-formulated answer– which will inevitably translate into chaos and confusion on the ground.
At the moment, the mood seems to be pretty upbeat in Egypt. The protestors are feeling empowered because their voices are finally being heard (opinion: it shouldn’t have taken this much for someone to finally listen to them!), and everyone is waiting with baited breath moment to moment to see what will happen. From where I sit, it’s like watching an action movie– except I know there’s no screenplay. So by the time you read this a few hours from now, all of this could have changed. I can feel the suspense, the adrenaline and the euphoria from here. And if this all ends with Morsi leaving power, then I will cheer and chant and jump up and down along with my Egyptian brothers and sisters. My heart already swells with pride and awe at the way they’ve come together and made their voices heard.
But I cannot ignore this sobering truth. Egypt has a slew of struggles it’s battling right now: a busted economy, sectarian and political division, lack of education, a fuel crisis, high unemployment, a wounded tourism industry, tense foreign relations with neighboring countries… And removing Morsi won’t fix those problems. I have full faith that the Egyptian people can find solutions– but they must see that ousting Morsi would only be the beginning of a solution, not the solution itself.
Post-script: As promised, a list of sources for first-hand, reliable information:
-On Twitter, follow: @basildabh, @jgulhane, @salmats2al, @norabeh, @hendtrk, @sandmonkey, @tahrirsquared, @tahrir_news, @aaboulenein, @dailynewsegypt, @egyptindependent… and follow the people they follow
-Some local opinion pieces, analyses and articles: http://tahrirsquared.com/node/5137