Egypt, a year after ‘revolution’: A tale of two activists
Everywhere one walks, there is a spirit of political debate for the upcoming elections. No one can deny the change in Egypt. But the change has not gone far enough. There is definitely a little more freedom of speech, but Mubarak’s old regime has effectively been replaced by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces – a group almost as authoritative and militant as the old regime. Although an election date, the 24th May, has finally been decided on, there was much stalling beforehand. Furthermore, freedom of choice has further been curtailed by the fact that ten candidates were barred from the elections.
One of the most remarkable days I spent in Cairo was one in which we met with two political activists. One was a woman who works in education, and planned to support the Muslim Brotherhood in the upcoming elections, whilst the other was a Christian man who supported the Social Democrats.
We came with questions prepared for them, and the interview went as follows:
Tuesday 3rd April
Q: What was your role in the Egyptian revolution?
Aisha: I was approached a few years earlier to do social work, teaching deprived children. When the revolution started, many of those I taught were involved so I became involved myself, though I am affiliated with no organisation. I did not take part in the demonstrations myself.
Alfred: I took part in the demonstration on the 25th of March – many people I knew were involved. I could not take part in the next demonstration (on the 28th) because I was shot in the leg and then arrested.
Q: Which aspects of Western society would you like Egypt to emulate, and which aspects would you like it to avoid?
Alfred: Obviously, I would like democracy. But democracy is something that develops – it can’t be forced, and it doesn’t happen through revolution. In Europe, democracy has been developing for hundreds of years. I would like Egypt to learn from it, not copy it directly. But I would like Egypt to avoid the corporate capitalism that is dominant in Europe and North America – this is just using humans as resources.
Aisha: I believe that our children should all be educated about different countries and choose what suits them. Everybody should get the chance to know about the western world. They should pick and choose the right aspects of the western world, not try to emulate it. Right now people won’t know what to do with their freedom. Something I don’t like about the West is the emphasis on rights-based culture. We keep demanding rights, but we don’t work or do enough to deserve these rights. I think our culture should be responsibility-based, not rights-based. We need to work for rights, we can’t just ask for them without doing anything in return.
Q: Do you think Egypt should become a religious state?
Aisha: No. Although I myself am a religious woman, I don’t think people should wear a hijab, a beard, a burqa or anything like that unless they believe they should do so themselves. Religions should not force people into a lifestyle – to do so is, in fact, against Islam.
Alfred: Religion should be totally separate from the state. The state should have absolutely nothing to do with religion, because religion is a personal conviction. I have not once heard of a constitution in the western world which claims to be Christian.
Aisha: Israel has absolutely no right to the Palestinian land. But from the beginning, the whole situation was so poorly arranged that it is irreversible now. I believe that the only solution now is a one-state solution, but for that to work at all, the two peoples are going to have to learn to live alongside one another.
Alfred: I recognise that the Jews were mistreated throughout history, and that they needed compensation after the Second World War. Roosevelt recognised Palestine as an independent state in World War Two. The Jews need to learn to co-exist with the Palestinians, or they will be denounced by the entire Arab world.
Q: What’s your prediction for who will win the election?
Alfred: I predict that, unfortunately, whoever the winner will be will firstly be approved by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, and after that, by the US. 30% of the Egyptian economy is owned by the army. They are fully in charge now – before, Mubarak acted only as a figurehead. The US has very strong ties with the SCAF so there’s no way that they won’t have a say – Egypt is a key player in the Middle East so the US will naturally want to control what happens here to keep their power in the region.
Aisha: I think that it is likely, and natural, for the winner to be an Islamist – the Muslim Brotherhood or the Al-Nour party. Egypt is 95% Muslim, so this is what would happen. I will give my vote to the Muslim Brotherhood party because I think they will guide the country in the correct way. Overall, I think the revolution has been effective. It has uncovered all the corruption that was not clear to every Egyptian before. However, it was in the Supreme Council’s interest to support our revolution – which is why we were successful in overthrowing Mubarak, but also is why they are still in power, and more powerful than before.