Dec. 22nd, 2011
The following post is a summary of conversations and reflections I’ve had over my 5-day stay in Cairo, and everything written herein is my own opinion. I’m electing to present this dialogue in its honest, raw form, free from political correctness. You’ll likely find that this post is more emotional than usually, and this is one goal. I hope these emotions will spark dialogue and I hope that people will take what I’ve written, think about it, and challenge it.
Dec. 16th, 2011. The last time I was in Egypt was in May 2010. At that time there wasn’t a hint of revolt in the making. Life in Egypt was for the most part the way it had always been – busy, lively, and free from the weight of the possibility of freedom from oppression. The depth of my political debates with my cousins went as far as cracking jokes at the corruption of the Mubarak regime. There was never a thought that his existence would soon be eliminated from Egyptian society.
Al Shohadaa (meaning the Martyr's) Subway Station was previously named Mubarak Station
As I landed in Cairo’s new terminal 3 last week, I wondered whether or not my entry would be any more difficult than in the past. This time I was coming from Accra, not Toronto and this time, there was no “Government” of Egypt. Only a military, that on the day I arrived killed 10 people near Tahrir square and beat several others unconscious. As I entered my grandmother’s apartment in the Cairo district of Shoubra, the television flashed between a political debate showcasing 2 Christian leaders and 2 Muslim politicians, and images of a historical building in downtown Cairo up in flames. Both of these images were unseen in Mubarak’s Egypt.
Hero of none, ruler of all.
Since the fall of Mubarak in February 2011 the Egyptian Military (referred to as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – SCAF) has been responsible for maintaining stability in the transition period towards democracy. Their downfall has been a failure to set a reasonable deadline for this transition and as such many Egyptians believe political history is again repeating itself. The military has ruled Egypt since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952 and they’ve repeated the same messages to the people of Egypt today. The military wants to return to its barracks. The military will protect the constitution. The military wants a civilian government.
However, their actions don’t align with their words. What happened in 1952 and what is happening today is that the military is not showing any signs of actually handing power to a civilian government, they are delaying the process and being ambiguous about the election of a new president, and the writing of a new constitution and many Egyptians I’ve spoken with can see right through the insincerity of the SCAF in this respect. The deaths of countless Egyptians at the hands of the military since January, have done little to build trust with Egyptian society. This has led to continuous uprisings since the fall of Mubarak.
The military is Egypt’s largest employer with its hand in every industry from food production, to gold mining, to tourism. It is foolish to think that they would hand over power to a democratically elected government that may challenge their economic legitimacy. No integral government agency would kill its own people, and when questioned about their role in the murders of approximately 100 Egyptian civilians since the fall of Mubarak the military always blames “hidden hands.” In fact the countless youtube videos and testimonials from protestors do not suffice as evidence for the military. They have yet to admit the responsibility of a single Egyptian death in Tahrir. When I’ve asked Egyptians who’s hidden hands the military is talking about, they obviously have no idea. Just like the Islamic parties I’ve described below, the military is using the ignorance of the common Egyptian to justify its unlawful and disgusting behavior.
What we can assume is that the military’s hidden hands are actually those of collusion between themselves and the Muslim Brotherhood. It should not be surprising that if in June 2012, the new President of Egypt is a former military officer. Many believe that there is a deal between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s military, where the brotherhood will maintain control of the Egyptian Parliament and the military will provide a President. If you ask an Egyptian who believes in a secular government, they’ll say they want Mohamed El Baradei to be the President of Egypt. My cousin once said to me “You know, this man, is too good for Egypt. The military hates him.” He is referring to the fact that El Baradei is a rational critic of the military, and the military in return will not allow him to govern Egypt due to fear that he would challenge the institution in order to serve the best interests of all Egyptians. As such, we cannot rely on a corrupt military to lead Egypt to a substantial democracy. This is as true as the deaths of countless self-sacrificing Egyptians in the past 10 months.
No Freedom or Justice
When I arrived in Cairo last week, it was with a heavy heart. Two of the three parliamentary election stages were complete and preliminary results were showing a strong majority Islamic parliament with between 60-80% of seats shared by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice party and the extremist Salafist’s El Noor party. The remaining seats went to a coalition of more Liberal, secular parties led by the Free Egyptians Party.
Let me be frank here. Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the Salafists will secure a bright future for Egypt. Neither of them will provide freedom or justice for all Egyptian people. Neither of them will respect the rights and dignity of all Egyptians. Neither of them will actually implement a substantial democracy.
Both parties will tell you that Egypt is an Islamic country and as such should be ruled by Islamic Sharia Law. Both of these groups have differing definitions of what this looks like but suffice it to say that it will not serve the interests of all Egyptians. Both parties clearly state that the beneficiaries of their policies will be the Muslim People of Egypt, not the People of Egypt as a whole. Moderate muslims, and the Christian population will suffer from oppressive policies that will not recognize their right to freedom, justice, or equality. The Salafists have already claimed that they will charge Christians higher taxes simply because they are Christian, and the Muslim Brotherhood has said that they will make Christians pay a fee to avoid military duty if they are inscribed (there is still mandatory inscription for men in Egypt) because they don’t believe that they will defend their country.
What is sad about this reality is that the world has read this story before. The Iranian revolution in the 70s led to a government under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini that has oppressed secularists and liberal Iranians. Iran is just one example of the future of an Islamic governed Egypt. Other examples include Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia neither of which are positive. This is all to say that there is not a single well-functioning − where I define well-functioning simply as free from religious oppression – Islamic Sharia state. For those who believe Qatar and Turkey are Islamic states, they are not. They govern liberally with a heavy focus on economic growth, although morally they may use Islam as a reference and Sharia is only used in limited circumstances while civil law is the standard. Although, the revolution in Egypt was led by Egyptian youth who believed in liberation from the economic oppression created by Mubarak and his cronies in January 2011, Islamic religious parties have hijacked this process of liberation replacing Mubarak’s oppression with what will certainly become religious oppression.
In a conversation with an educated, liberal (in action), muslim friend I asked what he thought about the Muslim Brotherhood and their rise to power. He mentioned that he actually voted for them because he believes that Egypt is 1) an Islamic country and 2) it is his duty to vote for an Islamic government because Islam is his life’s curriculum. When I challenged him on both these issues, he couldn’t provide any thoughtful explanation but rather repeated propaganda that the Islamic parties have spread through Egypt’s Mosques. That is, if you don’t vote for an Islamic party you have poor faith and as such won’t go to heaven. I initially, believed that this argument would only work against illiterate, uneducated, poor Egyptians but here I was hearing it from an educated, wealthy, and relatively liberal muslim Egyptian. I was shocked. Because 1) Egypt is NOT a homogeneous Islamic country, there are at least 12 million Christians in Egypt – this is not a small minority and 2) nobody’s religious curriculum should be forced on anybody.
What the youth in Tahrir were protesting for were their rights to live a socially just life, free from any form of oppression, whether economic, social, or religious. What we are beginning to realize is that these forms of oppression are being replaced by a new form of systematic religious oppression. The Islamic parties in Egypt only believe in freedom and justice for Muslims who vote for them.
Religious Governance and its foolishness
Quite frankly, anybody who believes that politics and religion can work together is truly ignorant of the fact that we live in the year 2011. We live in a world that has done whatever it can to increase human rights and freedom from oppression. And religious governance seeks to eliminate this progress. Forcing one’s beliefs on another is oppression in its most explicit form.
The oppressors are the ones who act upon the people to indoctrinate them and adjust them to a reality which must remain untouched. [Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed pg. 94]
The primary problem with religious political institutions is that most people vote for them not for the Governmental policies they will implement but because they share religious beliefs. There is NO rational thought when it comes to religious governance, and there is absolutely no tolerance for opposition. This has been clearly illustrated by the Islamic parties’ response to challenges from Egypt’s liberal parties on how they will govern. Instead of rationally debating Egypt’s political future, the Islamic party’s de facto response to any challenge is those people (ie. the liberals) are unholy, and don’t believe in God. In a country with 45% illiteracy and large poverty this argument is all it takes to secure a majority government. We begin to realize that creating any positive social change is very difficult when the parties involved cannot sustain productive dialogue.
Walking through the streets of El Zamalak, a district in Cairo, one can be reminded of Egypt’s very liberal history. Coffeeshops, bookshops, pastry shops, high fashion, and legitimate political dialogue are the norm. The people in this part of Egypt can rationally separate religion from politics, they can act in the best interests of the country. Driving through the Cairo traffic with my cousin, I nearly broke down into tears as he described the direness of the political situation. He lacked any hope of a bright future for his 4 year old daughter under an Islamic government. He spoke with passion, and love for the liberal and secular Egypt of the past, and boasted about Egypt’s many Nobel Price winners, the rich history, the freedom fighters in Tahrir, but he spoke with such fatalism. He spoke as a historian already recalling a fallen empire.
What has transcribed in Egypt’s parliamentary elections thus far is illustrative of the strength of the Islamic party network in Egypt. The million people in Tahrir on January 25th were truly a minority, and this is a very sad reality to face. The hijacking of a revolution that was inherently free from religious discrimination by the interests of Islamic religious institutions is a new form of post-Mubarak oppression.
The revolution was about freedom not religion! Images of solidarity between Christians and Muslims were common
Paulo Freire describes the phenomenon of politicking and its promotion of oppression in this excerpt from Pedagogy of the Oppressed;
They [the revolutionaries] forget that their fundamental objective is to fight alongside the people for the recovery of the people’s stolen humanity, not to “win the people over” to their side. Such a phrase does not belong in the vocabulary of revolutionary leaders, but in that of the oppressor. The revolutionary’s role is to liberate, and be liberated, with the people – not to win them over. [Pedagogy of the Oppressed, pg. 95]
The Islamic political parties have done little since the fall of Mubarak to liberate the masses of Egypt, but have rather preyed upon Egypt’s most vulnerable people “winning them over” to a false religious guarantee (that is, heaven in exchange for a vote). We can blame Mubarak for the massive income inequality, the 45% illiteracy rate, and the millions living in poverty in Egypt but exploitation of this situation for political gain must not be tolerated.
When the youth took to Tahrir square they dreamt of a future Egypt that represented everyone in Egyptian society. An Egyptian society that believed in peace and equality. An Egyptian society that believed in justice. An Egyptian society that respected all Egyptians. And, ultimately an Egyptian society founded on true Egyptian values of love and tolerance. Unfortunately, their dreams are quickly fading. Their eyes have been blinded from the freedom they once dreamt of.
The Eyes of Freedom: Protesters were targeted by the military in Nov. 2011, shot in the eye by pellet guns, and blinded. This wall near Tahrir commemorates their struggle for freedom.