Stephanie Egeler and Kehaan Manjee: Mafish Mushkila? Or a Nation Divided? (Egypt)

[ 0 ] May 29, 2013

by STEPHANIE EGELER and KEHAAN H. MANJEE in CAIRO on MAY 27-28, 2013:

Egeler and Manjee are undergraduates  participating in the Duke in the Arab World 2013 summer program (May 15-June 26) in Egypt and Morocco. Here are two recent blog posts addressing the political situation in Egypt — including the view from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the perspective of the general public. 

‘MAFISH MUSHKILA’

by STEPHANIE EGELER for DUKE IN THE ARAB WORLD 2013 (blog) on MAY 27, 2013: 

Duke in the Arab World 2013 students with the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party (center) at its headquarters in Cairo

Duke in the Arab World 2013 students with the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party (center) at its headquarters in Cairo

Today we met with the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The current president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, is a member of this party, and this party holds the majority of seats in the Egyptian Parliament.  It was definitely an interesting and educational experience, but at the same time it was difficult to reconcile the things the Secretary was saying and things I had heard from my Egyptian friends. I understand speaking diplomatically or being political, but this was more than that. For example:

The percentage of unemployment in Egypt is currently a staggering 13.2 percent. To put that in context, the USA currently has a percentage of 7.5, and our highest percentage during the recession was 9.1. This means that more than 1 out of every 10 citizens of eligible working age in Egypt are without a job. When a member of my group asked the Secretary General what his party planned to do to combat this unemployment problem, a problem which lead to the January 25th revolution, he denied the existence of a problem, saying that jobs were available, but that people were too picky and couldn’t imagine themselves in the existing job opportunities or even too lazy. I have met many young Egyptian college graduates who are looking for jobs and cannot find them. I have seen dozens of people on the streets because they cannot find a job. According to these people, there are no jobs, period. They don’t care where they work or how much as long as they have money to pay the rent and feed themselves and their families.

Egypt is unique in that it has an indigenous population of Christians, the Copts. I worked with several Coptic Christians last summer when I participated in the DukeEngage Program. Last summer was also the time of the elections, and many Copts were very scared about their futures in Egypt. As our professor pointed out in class yesterday: although the Copts are now a minority, they were the original inhabitants of this country, and it must be strange to have another religion, culture, and race come in and take over your land.  We asked the Secretary General of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party what provisions were going to be put in place in the new government to ensure the rights and freedoms of the Coptic community as well as minority sects of Islam. His answer: there is no problem. There is no sectarian tension in Egypt, no religious tension between the Copts and Muslims, and no racial tensions.

The questions went on in a similar fashion for about an hour. In Egypt there is the saying “Mafish Mushkila” which essentially means no problem, or there is no problem.  While it can sometimes be used as happy go lucky, no worries outlook on life, it can also be used to deny the existence of a problem. It was frustrating to hear that same phrase used in this situation when talking about the needs and concerns of the Egyptian people, the people we have spent a lot of time talking to and interviewing for our class.  In this case saying Mafish Mushkila just won’t cut it. Egypt had another president who denied the problems about which the people complained, and he got overthrown a few years ago.

‘A NATION DIVIDED’ 

by KEHANN H. MANJEE for DUKE IN THE ARAB WORLD 2013 (blog) on MAY 28, 2013: 

Walking down the El-Tahrir, I came across a graffiti that truly surprised me. What it said can be translated as: “Morsi the killer, Morsi the illegal/invalid”. Even though it was just graffiti, it had much more significance because of its location. Tahrir is the heart of Cairo, the place where the Egyptian revolution took place; and Egypt has not historically been a country where one could exercise his freedom of speech/expression in this manner. Because of this graffiti, I wanted to know more about people’s opinion of the current government so I talked to a number of Egyptians from all walks of life: from taxi drivers to professors to politicians.

I primarily came across two kinds of people: those who are against the regime and wanted Morsi ousted and those who have faith in democracy and wanted to give Morsi a chance. The first category of people I came across were mostly young Egyptians who had participated in the revolution and were really expecting things to change drastically after the new government came to power. Though a subset of this group was very vocal in expressing its dislike for Morsi, most of them felt helpless and knew that they couldn’t anything about it.

The people from the other category were not strong supporters of Morsi but thought that he was doing an acceptable job, struggling to change things for the better. In Morsi’s defense they said that Mubarak, in his three-decade rule, had destroyed most institutions in the country and naturally it would take time for progress and development to take place.

There were two highlights of my conversations with the Egyptians I met:

Fire and hell

This past Saturday, I had a chance encounter with a cartoonist who works for one of the leading newspapers in Egypt. What followed was an interesting conversation about the current regime and the revolution. Like most Egyptians that I’ve met he expressed that though the revolution was successful in overthrowing Mubarak and ending his three-decade rule, the Muslim Brotherhood had hijacked the revolution He like most other Egyptians that I have met said that the Muslim Brotherhood “hijacked” the revolution for their own benefit.

When I enquired whether he supported the brotherhood, he quickly responded by saying “of coarse not” and went on to say that he did not vote for them either. But at the same time he said that the reason he did not vote for the brotherhood was that he did not want them to win with a large percentage. He said that the decision that Egyptians had to make in the elections was “between fire and hell” and they chose the fire over hell, acting very rationally. But still, the Egyptians voted him into power.

Hijacking of the revolution

One word that I have heard from almost everyone I have talked to about the Egyptian revolution has been: “hijacking”. You are probably wondering what does the word hijacking, which has the opposite connotation to the word ‘revolution’, have to do with the Egyptian revolution? Well, most Egyptians who oppose the current regime claim that the Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the revolution, which was started by the youth. Dr. Khaled, General Secretary of the Freedom and Justice Party (Cairo) of the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t deny this. Instead he added that members of the Brotherhood, like himself, were already participating in the revolution and tried not to show they were part leaders of the revolution as this would have made it easy for Mubarak to crush the revolution. Though this statement sounds logical and shows that the brotherhood had no interest in getting credit for the revolution, there is no evidence to the fact that brotherhood comprised a large part of the revolutionaries in Tahrir.

Egypt is a democracy now, and the Egyptian people should respect the decision their countrymen made that brought the Muslim Brotherhood into power. The current government should be allowed to complete its current term. I have heard many Egyptians speak negatively about their government because of the lack of visible progress. Many want to see another revolution overthrow Morsi and the Brotherhood. But I think that another revolution is not the solution to Egypt’s problems. Democracy is! The transition from dictatorship to democracy has always, historically, taken its time. I know that Egyptians want to see their country become the next Turkey or Malaysia, but they forget that those nations have developed over periods of several decades. Egypt is definitely a much more free country than before, as a result of the revolution. I have seen things changing for the better since Morsi took power, if not at the speed which Egyptians expect. But all they can do now is be patient and cast their vote wisely in 2016.

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Category: Business & Economics, Middle East and North Africa, Muslim Life & Culture, Politics & Current Events, Student

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