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On the Ground in Egypt: Two Views from Two Egyptians

On the Ground in Egypt: Two Views from Two Egyptians

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ramy Peter and Yazan Amin,* both Egyptian, spent five weeks in America over the summer on a program called the Study of the U.S. Institute on Religious Pluralism and Democracy (based in Philadelphia), where they studied religious pluralism, democracy and dialogue. They have been back in Egypt since late July. Peter, 22, is living in Suez (near the Suez Canal) and is studying to be an engineer. Amin is studying law at Al-Azhar University and is currently living in El-Arish (in the north of the Sinai Peninsula) with his family until school starts again in October. I was lucky enough to be a Program Associate on their program in America, and Peter and Amin have given me the opportunity to write about their personal opinions and experiences about what is happening in Egypt. I was able to talk to them via Facebook on Saturday.

RAMY PETER

Peter did not vote in the last round of the presidential elections because he felt Mohamed Morsi represented fundamentalists and Ahmed Shafik the former regime.

He does not feel safe going out of his house and rarely does so. He told me that people are being killed in Suez every day. However, the rest of his family lives in the town of Qena in Upper Egypt, where Peter says it is safe enough for his family to go out on the streets as they wish.

When I asked Peter directly for his opinion about what the Egyptian army is doing, one of the first things he told me is that “it’s really complicated. I mean, there’s no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood are terrorists, but I believe the army is using much more force than necessary. And I cannot trust the army. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is violent, and they are using weapons to kill innocent people. So, I don’t know.”

Later, Peter remarked that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) would “kill everyone if they’re back in power…but the army as well doesn’t believe in freedom and democracy, though they don’t declare that now.”

When I asked where he has any hope for democracy in Egypt over the next few years, Peter responded: “I don’t know…but if the army is honest—and they may be—I guess we would have democracy…any scenario is better than the Muslim Brotherhood…we hope for the best; [there is] nothing else we can do.”

In explaining his opinions, Peter further remarked that “both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood are using violence and weapons; also, they both are using their media channels and lie to support their opinions. The army is saying that the MB always begins the violence and the MB says they never use violence or burn churches, and both of them are lying!”

Peter made no attempt at parity in his political preferences, however. He wrote to me that “any scenario for the Egyptian people will be better than the Muslim Brotherhood back in power!”

When asked whether he thinks there will be a civil war in Egypt, Peter responded in the negative but said that “the situation now is either the MB or the army…The MB had every chance to end it [the turmoil and division] politically and they denied that; they used force against the army. And that’s the way it is—violence until one side surrenders. And it will be the MB for sure.”

Turning to American foreign policy in Egypt, Peter told me that everyone in Egypt except for the Muslim Brotherhood believes that President Obama supports the Brotherhood. When I pressed him on whether he personally believes that Obama is completely for the Muslim Brotherhood and completely against everyone else, he said no. But he said that he feels President Obama’s policies are not clear and that he must better elucidate them.

Even with the excessive use of force, Peter does not believe that the Egyptian people will turn against the army. His reason: Egyptians simply hate the Muslim Brotherhood too much. Peter held that the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as a terrorist organization—not a political party—and that the Egyptian people believe it should be eliminated from the political system.

On Hazem El-Beblawi, Egypt’s current, military-appointed prime minister, Peter remarked that he “used to think of him as a good politician, but now you cannot judge individuals, you judge situations. Because it’s not clear if Beblawi is independent in making decisions, or just a follower of [Egypt’s military chief] Sisi.”

YAZAN AMIN

One of the first things Amin told me after I asked how it has been to be back home was that he wished he could “run away to any country—even Somalia.” He said that the only time he can leave his house is during the day, and even then he does not feel safe.

Amin voted for an independent Islamist candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh (a former Muslim Brotherhood leader), in the first round of the presidential elections and voted for Morsi over Shafik in the final round.

During our conversation, I pointed Amin to an article about the situation in Egypt written by Abdallah Schleifer. Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University of Cairo, has almost 50 years of experience working in Middle Eastern media, and is a Senior Fellow at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI)—where I work as a Research Associate. In the article, Schleifer criticizes Western media for making the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters out to be the hapless victims of the Egyptian military’s aggression—not a duplicitous, extremist movement that had imposed authoritarian rule on Egypt, had undercut press freedoms, is vastly opposed by the general Egyptian population, and is not currently protesting for democracy, but rather promoting martyrdom. He argues that the skewed media coverage stems—particularly in America—from the suspicion and skepticism that is placed on the military, largely as a result of the American experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

After reading the article, Amin responded that “he [Schleifer] couldn’t say that the army carried out massacres; he fears what will happen under military rule,” implying that Schleifer had censored himself because of concern over the army’s heavy-handed governing style. He also took issue with Schleifer’s “making the criminal and victim equal.”

“Now everything is clear,” Amin went on. “Now the army and the police are the criminals. The victims are the Egyptian people.”

When I asked him whether he thinks that Morsi should be reinstated as president, Amin responded “no.” He continued that “it doesn’t matter to me; what really does is ending military rule, and judging all the criminals.” He added that he had been against Morsi since the Islamist-drafted constitution was put to a referendum and that he supported the anti-Morsi protestors’ demand for early elections.

He clarified that the criminals he demanded be taken to court could be from both the military and the Brotherhood; whoever did a criminal act should be taken to court.

Echoing Peter, Amin remarked that “the media here is very bad and making a fake picture of what is happening in Egypt, to show the other countries that the victim is the criminal.” He added that the Muslim Brotherhood is using media to deceive as well.

Amin made it clear that whoever won free and fair elections in Egypt, he would support—even if it were secular parties and a secular candidate for president. “My principle is whoever won in a good and clear election…I will support him,” he wrote.

When I asked whether he would vote again for a Brotherhood candidate if elections were held soon, Amin responded “of course no, but if the other candidate was from the past regime I will support him against Mubarak’s regime.”

On El-Beblawi, Amin had very strong feelings: “He is a criminal now; he supported the killing of the people, and he must be taken to court.”

Queried on whether or not he thinks there will be a civil war in Egypt, Amin responded that “if the military is still in power, yes—exactly like Syria.” When I asked whether it could really descend into that kind of fighting, he said “yes, but it will not last very long.”

Amin proceeded to explain to me that because the Egyptian army, unlike the Syrian army, is not based on racial and religious divisions, that the soldiers in the army will rise up against their commanders and Sisi in protest of the mass killings that they are being ordered to carry out. He claimed that this will happen “very soon.”

 

*The names of the interviewees have been changed to protect their identities.

 

 

 

Author

Justin Scott Finkelstein

Justin Finkelstein recently received a Master's degree from New York University in Near Eastern Studies. He has spent most of his academic career and thereafter studying the Arab-Israeli conflict. His Master's thesis explored and analyzed the competing histories of the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem (1947-1949) and the potential for its solution.

He is currently a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia. He has traveled to both Israel and Morocco and has attended the Middlebury Arabic School program.

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