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Egypt Treads A Dangerous Path – OpEd

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By Linda Heard

Cairo is once again aflame. The January 25th revolution no longer looks as bright as it once did when people from all sectors of society and faiths flooded Tahrir Square seeking freedom from oppression and corruption. That popular uprising was inspirational and uplifting. Muslims and Coptic Christians prayed together, the faces of children were painted in the colors of the Egyptian flag, young people worked to clean and beautify the streets — and the armed forces were seen as protectors of the people who chanted “the people and the army are one hand.” There was unprecedented national unity that brought with it high expectations for the future. Not so now. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Base human nature has kicked-in. “United we stand” has been exchanged for individual sectarian and political objectives. Small cracks have become chasms. Patience has become a dirty word. Egyptians want change for the better – and they are demanding it now. The problem is that change means different things to different people. The Muslim Brotherhood and the various religious parties with which it has aligned seek an Islamic state run on Shariah law. Some want to see alcohol banned and women discouraged from working regardless of the effect this will have on a floundering tourism-based economy.

Those ambitions are anathema to the young latte-drinking “Facebook” revolutionaries who spend their evenings in Italian-style cafes with their laptops. They bring fear to the hearts of the Copts as well as to the well-heeled middle classes and most intellectuals. A few days ago, Nabila, a middle-aged Egyptian friend who’s an antique dealer, visited my home in Alexandria and was horrified to watch the violent clashes in Tahrir Square between mostly male demonstrators and security forces beamed on Al Jazeera.

She remarked on the fact the protesters were mostly men, many sporting newly-grown beards. Others appeared to be young thugs rather than representatives of the April 6th and January 25th youth movements. “They’re ruining our country,” she said before joking, “You and I had better start shopping for a niqab.” There is a substantial silent majority who feel as she does but they’re not the ones on the streets. Egyptians I’ve spoken to are sick of so much upheaval and just want to get on with their lives. That isn’t to say that some of the protesters don’t have a real gripe. They believe their revolution has been hijacked by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that, they say, still supports elements of the Mubarak regime. SCAF’s proposed constitutional amendments designed to make the military independent of any civilian government have fueled those concerns which is why those spearheading the current uprising are calling for the immediate institution of a civilian national unity government with power over SCAF as well as an early presidential election.

An increasing number of hotheads vow they are prepared to take on the military and die in the process, if necessary. Indeed, within the last few days, some 22 demonstrators have been killed while up to 1,000 have been injured. Protesters may have courageously faced off against tanks and riot police when the January 25th revolution was in full swing but then the army took a hands-off approach before joining hands with the crowd. Frankly, any Egyptian who believes violence can oust the military rulers is delusional when they have been Egypt’s behind-the-scenes backbone ever since the 1952 coup that sent King Farouk packing. Without the military’s backing, neither Jamal Abdul Nasser nor Anwar El-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak could have presided over the country. It should be remembered, too, that Mubarak refused to step down but was forced to do so on the orders of SCAF.

Until recently, SCAF has done its utmost to concede to popular demands but removing its hand from a nation in turmoil isn’t an option it’s willing to consider – and rightly so in my opinion. Any transition to a civilian government will take time. The country must first be stabilized with security for all before there is a suitable electoral climate.

Unfortunately, it seems SCAF is determined to proceed with parliamentary elections on Nov. 28 in spite of the fact that elections during the Mubarak era were invariably scarred with violence.

Yesterday, I heard a female protester screaming on Al Jazeera saying the people are hungry. When it comes to the capital she’s right. Alexandria is booming with new high-rise going up and glossy cafes and restaurants opening up seemingly every week while malls are packed but it’s just the opposite in Cairo. I visited there just days before the Eid holiday and was shocked to see so many stores and coffee shops deserted of customers in the usually bustling Mohandiseen area. I can’t explain the disparity except to say Alexandria isn’t reliant on foreign tourists like Cairo and recently received an economic boost from large numbers of fleeing Libyans.

Everyone wants a piece of the cake but if Egyptians aren’t careful, there’ll be no cake to go round. The economy is reeling after the latest turbulence. Cairo Airport has reported a drop in incoming traffic. Tour operators are canceling. The Stock Market has dived – and worse Egypt’s economic viability is being seriously eroded at a time when the country is applying for a $3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Egypt is potentially a wealthy country. It has oil and gas, industry, agriculture, the Suez Canal and unique tourist attractions. As someone who has adopted Egypt as home, it breaks my heart to watch it self-destruct due to the actions of the few unable or unwilling to see the wood for the trees. Those who want to see the military brought down should be careful what they wish for. If Egypt is brought to its knees, it will be vulnerable to its enemies and a lure to Western powers. As my friend Nabila suggested, the moderates should come out of their homes to make their voices heard before they’re drowned out by extremists and troublemakers before it is too late.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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