By Eliza Macdonald
The Griot Institute for Africana Studies held an open panel focusing on the current situation in Egypt on Feb. 17.
Panel members agreed that “Egypt will embark on a new road.”
In January of this year, Egyptian citizens inspired by Tunisian revolts, protested rising levels of poverty, unemployment and government corruption. Specifically, the protesters demanded the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt for 30 years. The protesters congregated in Tahrir Square, a central part of Cairo, Egypt, to assert their desire for a more democratic government.
“We should be able to identify with what’s going on because there are genuine expressions for democratic values, and this in a way dispels the notion that just because it’s the Arab world it’s not compatible with democracy. If anything it shows the yearning for these values you would normally find in a democracy,” professor Tony Massoud said.
During the protests, many parts of daily life were disrupted. The protests became violent and injured and killed many on both sides. Banks, schools, the stock market were all shut down, and at one point during the protests, Egyptians lost Internet and phone access.
The protests continued for 18 days before Mubarak finally resigned his presidency and handed power over to the army. The military rule has promised to oversee a transition process to an elected civilian government.
“I knew that Mubarak needed to leave because quality of life has lowered since he came to power,” Michel Ajjan ’14 said.
The panel consisted of three professors: professor Hager El Hadidi from Bloomsburg University, a native of Cairo; Massoud, an associate professor of political science here at the University; and Hilbourne Watson, a professor of international relations at the University.
Hadidi, as a native, gave those in attendance a look into the revolts from the perspective of an Egyptian. Hadidi focused on the importance of Tahrir Square to the Egyptians and the collective protests. She emphasized that Muslims and Christians were fighting side-by-side and that women, especially, were asserting themselves at the protests.
“Women were leading, daring men to be as courageous as they were,” Hadidi said.
Massoud’s input revolved more around the political aspects of the revolts and how it will affect Egypt in the future. Massoud sees two critical actors in this revolt: the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic group that, according to Massoud, has moderated its behavior in the last few decades. The Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan is “Islam is the solution.”
According to Massoud, the fear surrounding the ideas that the Muslim Brotherhood will try to take over Egypt is overblown. He hopes that Egypt will use the current democratic model used in Turkey. Turkey has demonstrated that it’s possible for Islam to be a part of a democratic system. Massoud also thinks the military won’t let an Islamic state come to power.
Other fears surrounding the “new Egypt” are that it will turn into a military state, but once again Massoud considers this an unlikely situation.
“The regime was interested in staying in power and maintaining control, which is why I think at the end they pushed Mubarak out. I don’t think the regime is interested in direct rule,” Massoud said. He also made the point that although the military prefers to be behind the scenes, they will be a factor in the new government because they’re too entrenched in the economy and society.
Massoud also argues that within political science, the term “revolution” is used a bit too loosely. He defines a revolution as major changes across different aspects of life in a country. It also depends on what replaces the old regime.
Watson, along with the other panel members, was able to give a more global view to connect the national and political sides of the argument.
“Those who make half a revolution dig their own grave,” was a slogan that Watson used to reinforce the idea behind Egypt’s desire for a full revolution.
Watson feels that globalization has had a huge impact on the quality of life in many regions around the world and that we are in a moment of global discontent.
Watson also broached the topic of how these revolts have affected the Egyptian economy, noting that exports to the European Union have shrunk in the last months.
Carmen Gillespie, director of the Griot Institute of Africana Studies and professor of English, felt that the panel was extremely successful.
“It was an opportunity we couldn’t miss, helping students and even faculty to really understand this evolving situation as much as we can,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie was glad so many students decided to attend to hear from people who’ve studied all their lives on these subjects and learn what their perception of the situation was, instead of a soundbite from the media.
Along with the hope to spark student and faculty curiosity, Gillespie hopes to keep the bridge between what happens on campus and the occurrences that happen in the “real world.”