As many as a million citizens joined the recent protests in Egypt. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)
On January 25, the day traditionally celebrated as National Police Day in Egypt, demonstrations, rallies, protests, marches, acts of civil disobedience, riots, labor strikes and other forms of protest broke out in Cairo, Alexandria and other large cities. The uprising escalated in the ensuing weeks until as many as a million citizens were estimated to be involved. Then on February 11, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president of 28 years, stepped down. Calvin annual fund director Souzan Karadsheh and economics professor Adel Abadeer are both natives of Egypt, and both have family living there. They offered their reflections on what is being called the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.
What events led up to the current situation in Egypt?
Abadeer: This is an easy question to ask but very difficult to answer. I think that it began as a social movement by some youths in Egypt to use social media to foster democracy … The actual demonstration, which began on January 25, was mainly against police brutality in memory of a Khalid Sa’id, a victim of police brutality— and to demand more democracy. January 25th is the police’s appreciation day in Egypt … The rallies and demonstrations spilled over because of certain synergies and became wider and wider, with increasing participation. Initially, youths used different networks— Facebook, Twitter— and that’s why the government shut down all services. And then it took on a life of its own, demanding the ouster of President Mubarek.
Karadsheh: Egypt is a complicated country, and what we’re seeing is a fairly complicated situation … . On the one hand, we see that Mubarak’s regime is not healthy, and we see that poverty, inflation and unemployment pretty much define his presidency … . People my age in Egypt, people in their 30s, are still not working today and are still dependent on their parents’ income … .So we can see how youth have become restless for change, especially for economic reasons. But change does not happen overnight.
What do you think of Mubarak stepping down?
Abadeer: I think it’s a good move, but I wish he’d arranged his stepping down around the 25th or 26th before the bloodshed and the violence and the massive economic losses and loss of lives. I wish he’d had the dignity resign on his own, because before January 25 there was no call for him to resign. It seems that if he really cared about Egypt, he would have arranged a gradual transition of government in the immediate days after the rally. People would accept this and honor him and call him a reformer.
Karadsheh: People in my generation—early-30s—would not have known any other president … . People are grateful for what Mubarak provided—safety and external relations with the middle east and other countries. He did well with that.
What are the dangers of Egypt’s destabilization? What do you hope for?
Karadsheh: These next few months are critical. Egypt is under military reign and government. We’ve been able to have a secular government for many years, and there is a concern that at this point in time, some minority group will wedge themselves in … Egypt enjoys a very stable part of the middle east. Whatever happens will have ramifications—I will say global ramifications—which is what creates this anxiety … . If you can prevent some extremist group from rising up, there is hope that unity will prevail and that a good process will rise up.
Abadeer: The army that brought Nasser, Sadat, and then Mubarak, has inherited the government from Mubarak. I hope that the current transitional military regime will prepare Egypt for a gradual transition toward liberal democracy. However, Egypt lacks social and political foundations and institutions that are prerequisite for healthy democracy: it lacks viable civil society organizations; it lacks a liberally democratic constitution; it suffers from a higher rate of illiteracy; and, it lacks a true democratic history and experience. Personally, I prefer a gradual and transitional process toward liberal democracy … .
The outcome will be very devastating if this revolution is hijacked or exploited by certain powers internally or externally. The worst-case scenario is that the Muslim Brotherhood will try their best to hijack this grass-roots revolution and transform Egypt into a theocratic regime by enforcing the current Islamic Shari’a. (The constitution states that Islam is the official religion of the state, and that Islamic Shari’a [law] is the main source of legislation in Egypt.) I fear that Egypt may follow the same pattern that currently exists in Iran after the secular Iranian revolution in late 1970s: a totalitarian theocratic Islamic government/rule.
How is it for Christians in Egypt right now?
Abadeer: Many Christians participated in the rallies and in the revolution, hoping for a better future and secular constitution, and more freedom and rights for all Egyptians; however, many fear hijacking of the revolution by the Muslim Brotherhood or other religious fundamentalists that seek to transform Egypt into more Islamic theocracy, based on Islamic Shari’a (law). This would mean more persecution of non-Muslims in Egypt, especially the Christian church and population …The minority Christians and other non-Muslims in addition to many secular Muslims will fare much worse and will be more marginalized, prosecuted, and subdued. The churches—the dominant Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Catholic and evangelical churches—in Egypt are under many forms of siege instituted and perpetuated through centuries of religious discrimination … .The revolution so far is promising, even though it is in a crossroad.
Karadsheh: Early on when this started and the police left the streets, the neighbors then formed neighborhood watch groups to protect the buildings. The neighbors were out during the entire night, protecting the buildings, including the churches, and many of those were Muslims. The average Egyptian is moderate, and this is a sign that people would all like the best for the country and all want the same thing—the safety of their homes and their neighbors … People would like to see Egypt remain a leader in the middle east, providing a common place and bridging conversations and dialogue.
How do you cope with the anxiety for your family at this time?
Karadsheh: It’s really a lot of God’s grace and watching in prayer—and I do call my family often. There are moments that are uncertain and unpleasant. It takes a lot of focus to keep that aside and plow through your day-to-day. And to be honest, some of that is denial too.
Abadeer: So far, my family is okay. I pray for them, for Egypt and for all Egyptians (Muslims, Christians, and others). I am in constant contact with them. Sometimes, I find myself hopeful, optimistic, and other times, deeply concerned and anxious about Egypt’s future. It is a revolution without a clear path. I hope it finds the right path for better and more prosperous Egypt and Egyptians.