I’m thinking about all of the Egyptians today who are caught between two worlds — the one they successfully overthrew in January 2011 and the one they dream of but haven’t found yet.
In total, I’ve spent 15 weeks in Egypt since President Mubarak was dethroned. That’s just enough time to make some very good friends, but not enough time to really understand why the revolution has led so many people to call for President Morsi to step down after his first year in office.
In July-August 2011, I felt the excitement and anticipation in the air. The Egyptians I talked with were both hopeful and eager for change. Things would be better now that Mubarak’s thirty year reign (1981-2011) had come to an end.
Young people in the summer of 2011 were talking about their future, believing the future would be better than the past. Older people were talking cautiously about the transition, hoping the violent revolution was behind them and that tourists would return. Nearly everyone wore smiles. There was patriotism in the air!
What went wrong? How could the Egypt of 2011 be the Egypt of 2013 with the economy nose-diving, sectarian murders, and calls for another revolution if President Morsi refuses to step aside? Tamarod (‘Rebel’ in English), a signature drive claims to have gathered now over 22 million signatures asking Morsi to step down.
President Morsi has certainly made many mistakes in his first year in office, there’s no doubt, and he has acknowledged many of them. I wonder if anyone could have navigated through these turbulent months without making mistakes. I don’t think former President Mubarak ran any democracy schools to prepare future leaders for elective office. His son, Gamal, was supposed to take over after his retirement, continuing the Mubarak dynasty.
So everyone is pointing fingers now. Morsi claims the opposition is threatening the fragile democracy; the opposition faults Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood; all making good fodder for the cartoonists.
Reasonable Egyptians have told me that they think Morsi should step down, and several mentioned that the military should take control until new elections are held. That really surprised me. They actually have greater confidence in the military than in President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood!
One new friend in Cairo told me she disagreed with many of President Morsi’s decisions since he took office in June 2012 but she doesn’t want to see him step down or to be violently overthrown. “He was democratically elected and the process should be honored. What message do we send to the world if we throw him out before his term is up? We need to be working with him, not against him, to help get our economy moving in the right direction.”
On further reflection, I think what’s happening in Egypt is happening everywhere on the planet. There is a crisis in governance and people are rebelling in Turkey, Brazil, and even in Mora County, New Mexico, USA where county residents are fed up with the feeling of impotence in the face of corporate power and abuse.
I don’t know where all of this is headed, but I hope President Morsi is allowed to complete his 4-year term of office; that tourism and stability return to Egypt; that all sides learn from each other’s mistakes and admit that they have a common purpose which unites them.
The U.S. might learn a lesson or two from these recent events in Egypt. We supported a dictatorship for 30 years without remorse or even a thought about how a real democracy might be nurtured in Egypt. And some members of Congress spend a lot of time demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood, illustrating their own ignorance.
At the same time, I’m pleased to see that U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson has tried to convince the opposition to work with President Morsi.
Patterson has been clear on this issue. “Egypt needs stability… more violence in the streets will only add new names to the list of martyrs,” she said to the representatives of the opposition. In the same vein, she assured leaders of the Brotherhood that the United States opposed the opposition demand for early elections and supports the maintenance of the president until the end of his term.