Most Macalester students have at least heard about the unrest in Egypt since the 2011 Arab Spring protests. For a few of them, however, the impact is much more immediate than a news report could ever be.
“My dad used to tutor foreigners,” said Emily TahaBurt ’16. TahaBurt spent the first nine years of her life in Egypt, and almost all of her family still lives in the Giza area, near the iconic pyramids.
“They’re all gone now. Economically and financially it’s very worrisome,” she said. “It’s difficult just getting by.”
The last time TahaBurt visited the country was the summer of 2011, just months after the Egyptian president of 30 years, Hosni Mubarek, stepped down and relinquished state control to an army council in the face of country-wide protests against his continued regime.
“It was interesting,” TahaBurt said. “We were kind of casually hearing about [protests]. There were a lot more patriotic things, commercials glorifying the revolution, Egyptian flags.”
The 2011 protests surrounded the slow pace of political change in Egypt following Mubarek’s resignation. The situation turned violent as protesters fought against the military regime that took control after Mubarek’s ouster.
The country’s first free presidential elections took place shortly thereafter. Elections led to the installment of Mohamed Morsi, who narrowly won the vote to become the state’s new president.
“Once we had Morsi we thought that was more settling down,” TahaBurt said.
Nevertheless, protests remained a common fixture in Egyptian life and on world news. In late 2012, his move to strip the judiciary branch of its ability to challenge his rulings sparked a resurgence of protests, according to press accounts.
Irene Gibson ’15, currently studying abroad in Jordan, had originally planned to spend her semester in Cairo, but she was forced to change her plans after Morsi was removed from office by the Egyptian military in early July. Morsi was deposed following protests that drew millions of people to the streets of Egypt on June 30, the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.
“Ironically, I chose Egypt to study abroad for the exact same reason I wasn’t allowed to go there: the revolutionary atmosphere,” Gibson wrote in an email exchange with The Mac Weekly. “I was pretty wrecked when I found out I had to change locations. On one hand, I was ecstatic that Egypt had finally deposed Morsi. On the other hand, I was really upset that I couldn’t visit Egypt
From the time of Morsi’s deposition to the present, tensions have been rising between Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and the military and its liberal supporters. The situation is complicated by ongoing sectarian violence targeting Christian Copts, a large minority in Egypt, and the increasing consolidation of political power under the military and General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“It’s very confusing,” TahaBurt said. “It was hard going through the day with everything happening, checking the news. No one could understand what was happening.”
“The situation in Egypt is incredibly complicated,” Gibson wrote. “And it’s difficult for anyone to understand what’s going on, even if a person is actually there.”
Biased information coming from within Egypt—whether it be from the Brotherhood, members of the military or civilians—has become a serious cause for concern in state media. Similarly, U.S. coverage of the issue has been accused of factual misrepresentation by the Egyptian government. Most notably, el-Sisi’s military government has accused journalists of favoring the Muslim Brotherhood by glossing over some of the group’s more violent acts of crime.
Gibson was extremely frustrated with international coverage of the situation.
“The news was doing a rather poor/biased job of reporting facts on the ground, so I was angry about that,” she wrote. “I was sick of hearing the news misrepresent the facts.”
Even now violence persists in the months after Morsi’s deposition. In August, hundreds of Morsi supporters were killed when protest camps were forcibly shut down by the military, and a state of emergency was declared for Egypt on August 14. That state of emergency continues to the present.
“This summer was so big,” TahaBurt said. “[Egypt is] still in a huge time of transition, and nobody knows what is going to happen. ‘We’ll see’ is the common phrase.”
Despite the confusion in the present and the uncertainty for the future, both TahaBurt and Gibson were proud of the efforts of the Egyptian people.
“Everything that’s happened . . . it’s kind of amazing people can do that,” TahaBurt said about the resilience of Egyptians against repressive governments.
Gibson gave her opinions in a self-described “rant” on Facebook written over the summer after the second revolution.
“Why should Americans care about Egypt?” she wrote. “The sheer inspiration of humanity. [Egyptians] came from different groups, had different viewpoints, but were united under one core belief: that the man who less than eight percent of Egyptians voted for, Mohamed Morsi, should no longer be allowed power. Egyptians took their universal human rights of freedom of opinion and expression into their own hands, and forced a democratic change in an environment where there was only the pretense of democracy before. America should care about Egypt because we have the privilege to see the birth of a new democracy in our lifetimes.”
TahaBurt was more quietly optimistic.
“I think the biggest question is, ‘Is it worth it?’” she said.
As she follows the developments in Egypt, TahaBurt tries not to “romanticize” it.
“People are dying and getting beaten.”
Egypt, as Gibson also states, does not have an easy path ahead as protests and violence continue and uncertainty shrouds the governmental future. But despite societal divisions and a sense of overall confusion surrounding the situation, Gibson urges Americans to stand by and support the pursuit for true democracy in Egypt.
“Even halfway across the globe, how can you not feel that pride?”