It’s been two years since demonstrations marked the end of 30-year President Hosni Mubarak’s rule and 59 years of military control, but in Egypt, popular unrest persists. Two Lafayette-based Egyptian natives agree the transition will take time, although they differ on whether or not the current government will best handle the changeover.
“I think the people should stop demonstrating, stop protesting and give the new government time to conduct its affairs,” said Egyptian native Nasser Hamden, 50.
But 26-year-old UL Lafayette student Bassem Hassam said he disagrees with the current regime.
“I don’t see that what (President Mohamed) Morsi is doing is right,” said Hassam, a senior general studies major. “I think he is soon to be out, too.”
Separate democratic elections saw Morsi sworn in as president last June and a new constitution signed into law in December. But opposing factions accuse Morsi — a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood — of pushing through legislation that favors Islamists and ignores the rights of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, as well as the rights of women and secular Muslims.
Demonstrations ensued. A court ruling this month that reaffirmed death sentences for 21 individuals involved in a deadly soccer riot last year spurred further violence. And last Thursday, Egypt’s police force went on strike after a leaked report commissioned by Morsi claimed more than 800 civilian deaths tallied during the country’s 2011 uprising were at the hands of the police.
The volatility has taken its toll on Egypt’s economy. The Egyptian pound has lost more than 8 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar since the end of December, and tourism, which makes up for 11 percent of its gross domestic product of $537.8 billion, is plunging.
“The instability in the street scared away the investors who worry about the instability of the country,” explained Hamden, a 1990 graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now UL. “Egypt needs investors, capital. The other thing is tourism. It’s a major income for the country.”
As reported by The New York Times this week, a report from the nonprofit World Economic Forum ranked Egypt the least secure of 140 tourist destinations that include Pakistan and Yemen.
Hassam, an Alexandria, Egypt, native who has lived in the U.S. for 21 years, said he felt safe in the streets of his home country when he visited last year, but said he was surprised at the obvious class disparities in the capital, Cairo.
“I’ve been to places in Cairo that when you see it, you’re like, how are these people living this way?” he explained. “It’s crazy. They have nothing. A lot of them don’t even have sewage. But I’ve been to really rich places, too. Either you’re here, or you’re there.”
Egypt’s per capita GDP is $6,600, or 138th in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. The availability of city services lags in Cairo, where population has doubled since the 1960s. The capital city is home to more than 10 million of the country’s 79.9 million people.
Egypt is one of the oldest civilizations on Earth — it dates back to 10,000 B.C. — but it’s had a turbulent modern history. Historically governed by monarchs, it essentially became a British protectorate after Britain gained and maintained control of the Suez Canal from 1882 to 1956. The strategic importance of the canal made Egypt a battleground between the British and Germans in World War II.
A group of leftist army officers led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the monarchy in 1952. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, provoking an international crisis, and led Syria and Jordan into the disastrous Six-Day War with Israel in 1967, in which Egypt lost control of the Sinai Peninsula to Israel.
Nasser died in 1970 and was succeeded by Anwar El Sadat, who unsuccessfully attempted to regain the Sinai in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Sadat then made history by visiting Israel as a bold peace initiative. He and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin negotiated the Camp David Accords in 1978, by which Egypt recognized Israel’s right to exist and established diplomatic relations, and Israel returned control of the Sinai to Egypt. Sadat and Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize.
But three years later, in 1981, Sadat was assassinated by hardline army elements who opposed any concessions to Israel. He was succeeded by Col. Mubarak, who ruled for 30 years before the popular uprising toppled his regime.
Assistant political science professor Elizabeth Nyman, Ph.D. said she understands the frustrations on both sides of the debate, but agrees that after decades of military and dictatorial rule, Egypt’s transition into a democracy will be a timely affair.
“With all new people in charge,” said Nyman, “it’s going to be a very slow process.”
She also said foreign aid to the country will be reliant upon the new regime’s adherence to the Camp David Accords.
This month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Egypt — a country slightly more than three times the size of New Mexico, at 387,048 square miles — and announced $250 million in aid to the country, which Hassam said he hopes to see invested in the people.
“The Egyptian culture is very strong,” he said. “They are very kind. They help each other. But they don’t have the chance. I think that’s a big part of that culture, is that somebody needs to give them the chance to succeed. Put more into the people, and they’ll make it happen.”
But for that to happen, Hamden said he believes patience is key.
“I think there’s no easy solution, because if Morsi uses a tough hand, people will accuse him of being a dictator, and if he lets things go, people will also accuse him of doing nothing,” he opined. “I think if the government is given a chance, they might do better.”