Two years ago, while sharing a bus ride with man, we ended up getting wrapped into a very deep conversation about Egypt (my home country). Before the parting of our ways, he said to me something, something that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget the twinkle in his bright blue eyes, or the genuine smile that erupted in his face as he said: “I hope when you do visit Egypt you’ll come to find a great and a new Egypt!” As I walked out of the bus, I had a ridiculous smile plastered on my face.
Oh how those words meant to me then, as they still mean to me now. Reflecting back on it now, two years later, it makes me feel sad. Sad because a lot has changed since those optimistic words were spoken. Will I ever come and visit a great and a new Egypt? I don’t pretend to know.
So what happened?
25th January, Cairo Egypt 2011
Tahir! Liberation! Freedom!
It was that day when the spark ignited. The fear was replaced by courage, courage in demanding change, courage in claiming what was rightfully theirs. People felt liberated, liberated from the strangle of a corrupt government that crippled the country. Out poured the people into Tahrir Square (Liberation Square), screaming at the top of their lungs, “irhal, irhal, irhal” meaning “leave” in Arabic. The spirit of social justice was being rekindled once again, a revolution was happening, and history was being written. Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
I, being 7845.78 kilometers away from it all, watched it unravel before my eyes on television. A strange feeling ignited inside me-feelings of hope, passion, excitement, and nationalism. I’d like to think every Egyptian had similar feelings close to mine, whether they were at the heart of the city or were hundreds of kilometers away from it all. All that mattered was that a revolution was occurring and change was happening!
A lot has changed since then. I know it is quite naive to think that the aftermath of revolution is an easy task, on the contrary it’s the most difficult of all. That feeling of hope and nationalism stills exists inside of me, yet new feelings of disappointment, sadness, and skepticism has been kindled as well. Following the revolution a six month plan was put by the military to a draft a new constitution, hold new parliamentary and presidential elections. They military vowed to cede power to a newly elected citizen government within that time. The path of democracy was being paved; people were hopeful.
One would think that following the Egyptian revolution, Egypt should have been moving towards democracy and political stability. A path that I hoped that Egypt would follow and truly embrace. However, since that promise Egypt has witnessed increased turmoil and political confusion.
Egypt’s presidential election has been particularly revealing. Recent parliamentary elections proved surprising, given the first-place finish by the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more startling emergence of a Salafi party, Al-Nour, as a strong second. The country’s new constitution has not yet been written; the committee responsible for drafting it has been all but dissolved. Candidates were often approved, and then rejected based on procedures that were far from clear and transparent. Political parties and individual candidates avoided polemics so as not to poison the atmosphere despite accusations that former regime holdouts and even the Armed Forces were tampering with the rules behind the scenes. Egypt was supposed to be writing a fresh page in History, yet there still was not any political transparency yet.
The 25th of May marked the start of the first democratic elections after the revolution. A historic moment for Egypt. The first round of voting in presidential elections narrowed a field of thirteen candidates down to two finalists: Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and former Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik.
There was a lot of political apathy prior to the 2012 elections due to corruption embedded in the country. I, for one, was one of those people who could not care less about voting, the votes or the candidates involved. In the past, elections were usually rigged and magically, somehow, Mubarak and his National Democratic Party (I tend to find it quite amusing when you have highly corrupt and autocratic regimes or parties dubbing themselves with the term “democratic”) always got re-elected, every-single- election, winning about 88% of the vote. I would not like to think it was due to his dazzling charisma and popularity. But things were different now; people’s voices mattered. Everyone wanted their opinions and voices to be heard. This election mattered to every single Egyptian and for the first time our votes counted.
Shafiq led a campaign with a promise to return Egypt back to stability, and to law and order. His campaign attracted many voters after months of political turmoil. However, there was one problem with Shafiq, he was a relic of the autocratic days of Mubarak. He was a symbol of the old regime. Could he be trusted to rule?
Then, there was Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), (a party that had strong links to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt). Morsi head of the FJP promised change for Egypt. He vowed for political and economic reform. “I hold political and social views that are shared by many in our society.” said Morsi during one of his speeches. “I understand the ambitions and values, and standards held by many mainstream Egyptians.. [sic] Egypt must emerge again, liberated from dictatorship and the rule of the exploitative minority, to occupy its rightful place on the world stage. The absence of Egypt in the past few decades has left a dangerous vacuum in the Arab world, and has damaged the stability of the region and the prosperity of its peoples. Egypt’s destiny is to lead. If I am elected on Sunday, I will make sure that Egypt fulfils its destiny.” Morsi promised a “democratic, civil, and a moderate state” this attracted the latter half of the population into voting for Morsi.
Egyptians from all over the country headed to polling stations for the country’s first democratic presidential election to cast their ballots. Hundreds and hundreds of people waited in long lines for hours to cast their votes. There was huge excitement and euphoria. People were finally getting close to choosing who would rule the country!
The 24th of June marked another historic day for Egypt. Egypt’s first democratically elected president was finally declared. Morsi beat Shafiq, winning about 51% of the votes. On the 30th of June Morsi was sworn in as president. His senior advisor, Wael Hadara recalls his feelings of happiness when Morsi was appointed: “Here we are, the first democratically elected president in the entire history of Egypt. And it was like stepping into the warm sunshine after a long, long cold winter.” And indeed for some, it did feel like stepping into the warm sunshine after a long, long cold winter.
On June the 15th a day before the presidential runoff election, the military, acting on a ruling by the Supreme Court, shuts down the parliament. It awarded itself sweeping new powers such as control over the national budget and power to issue laws that effectively diluted the power of the president. Attempting to reclaim the powers of the presidency, Morsi, on the 12th of August orders the retirement of the top Mubarak-era military leadership and nullifies the military’s June declaration. He chooses General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, former head of military intelligence, as his defense minister. Was this the start of Morsi’s problems? Was this a drastic mistake made by Morsi? I sometimes like to think so.