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Opinion: 3 years later, Egypt hasn’t progressed since revolution

Tens of thousands of Egyptians protested Jan. 25, 2013 in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Tens of thousands of Egyptians protested Jan. 25, 2013 in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Back in 2011, during the nauseatingly patriotic months that ended Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year grip on the country, I usually stayed silent when asked about the Egyptian revolution. Pro-revolution, anti-military, that’s how I described myself. I told people I was a liberal and a secularist, because those are the same thing right? I was 16 and living in Cairo at the time, sitting with friends in coffee shops where conversations inexorably turned into reflections on the horrors of Mubarak’s dictatorship. It seemed that, at the time, the cool thing to do was appear skeptical of the whole charade (it was also cool to use words like “charade”), and tell people that Mubarak needed to go but that we weren’t doing a good job recovering. I, on the other hand, had the same mind-numbingly neutral response to anyone who asked what I thought about the revolution’s success, or lack thereof: it’s too early to judge. I kept saying that until very recently, refusing to accept Egypt’s worsening condition. But I recently realized that it had been three years. Three years, and all we have managed to do is dispose of another incompetent totalitarian, Mohammed Morsi, and hand the country back to the military.

Originally, I wanted to title this article “Has the Egyptian revolution been successful?” but I quickly changed the subject to why it hasn’t been successful. There isn’t much debate, or written material, about whether or not Mubarak’s removal has generated much success — it hasn’t. The country’s a mess, regardless of how you look at it. Cairo is an immiscible stewpot of insane Islamists, power-hungry military figures, naively hippie liberals, and pompous “educated” secularists. There are even some nostalgic leftover old-regime advocates. The economy is in the figurative toilet, with unemployment at 12 percent and a steady number of people dropping out of the labor force altogether. Foreign investment is at a minimum, and so is tourism, with the pyramids proving insufficient compensation for the risk of death.

Even if we were to excuse the economic downturn as an inevitable result of a much-needed revolution, we still cannot conclude that the revolution itself was successful. Three years later, and the country is still ruled by an interim government. Even when presidential elections do take place for the second time since Mubarak’s disposal, it’s still highly probable that an authoritarian military figure will take over instead of a level-headed citizen (I’m not sure if those even exist in Cairo’s politics). Egyptians have removed the man but not the method; freedom of speech is still a pipe dream in Cairo.

I wrote this article mainly as a response to Western media, to the way I see Egypt’s politics play out through the lens of American news cameras. The prevalent Western explanations to why the post-revolution years have gone so poorly is that Egyptians suffer from low rates of education, making the country especially susceptible to dictatorships. While there might be some truth to that, in reality, the issue is far more complicated, and there’s a story worth telling. Let me explain my point by contrasting Egyptian politics with something closer to home. In Egypt, there’s a common idea that American politics are a joke and that the two-party split that dominates Capitol Hill is entirely absurd. What I’ve seen is that outside the United States, particularly in Arab countries, most people think that Democrats and Republicans are inseparable beings. I’ve also learned that that’s simply not true, and that the difference between American conservatives and liberals are vast enough to warrant significant debate. However, it’s also obvious that both parties dominating American politics have similar enough goals so as to be included in the same conversation.

Here is where we see the problem with Egypt: the dominating ideas and cultures are too different to allow inclusive conversation. There are parts of Cairo I have never and will never visit. The city is divided, and fiercely so. Islamists demand religious submersion, while secularists advocate separation of church and state. Liberals discuss the virtues of opening up Egypt to free international trade, while Salafis preach isolationism and a return to Shar’iah, canon law based on the Koran. Lower class proletariats pick up arms for the Muslim Brotherhood, while atheism spreads through an increasingly detached upper class. These ideologies come from so many different places, but they all head toward Tahrir Square seeking the same thing: representation.

Right now, the military continues rounding up or simply killing Muslim Brotherhood members, calling them terrorists and criminals. And while I deeply hate the MB, I don’t think you can just arrest or kill an organization that has such a large following. The issue, however, is that whenever I say that the Muslim Brotherhood, though being detrimental, should be treated with some sort of respect and included in political dialogue, I get the same simple response, “how?” and I never know how to respond. I am no politician, but I don’t think even politicians are smart enough to devise a way to include all the different voices present in Cairo.

So here’s my conclusion: I think the Egyptian revolution has failed because it attempted to achieve democracy. Democracy, in its truest definition, seems lost on a country like Egypt. Democracy fails in Egypt for the same reason it can fail internationally: the cultures are just too different. Cultural clash is something we think of and discuss between countries on an international level, but it is epitomized in Egypt. I have no thoughts on how the country should proceed, and I don’t know what or if there is a suitable alternative to democracy. But all I know is, we tried. We tried, and we failed. When given freedom, we elected the Muslim Brotherhood, overthrew them, and now seem happy to hand the country back to the military. But with a country as divided and unstable as Egypt, perhaps the foolish thing to do was seek democracy in the first place.


  1. Yours is a really impressive article.

    One thing I would add is that wherever we see Islam we always find a lack of democracy which you, of course, suggested but never said clearly.

    Even in “moderate” Turkey there are more journalists rotting away in jail than in any other country in the world.

    Jesus said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” and this is how Jesus lived. He had no interest in worldly power or riches.

    In sharp contrast to this Mohammed could not satisfy his worldly ambitions dying a wealthy, powerful man surrounded by a harem of women. (His last wife was nine years old when he consummated his marriage with her. He was 54 years old at the time.) Their lives and message serve as role models for their followers to this day.

    This is why throughout the Judea-Christian world democracies thrive while throughout the Islamic world the stifling, individual crushing Sharia law, a law that is part-and-parcel of Islam, destroys any and all attempts at democracy. Even in more secular Islamic countries the influence of Islam is so far reaching that military despots are mere substitutes for the more religious despots as found in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan. Mauritania and elsewhere.

    The shackles that imprison Muslims are a natural by-product of their all-encompassing and cruel religion.

  2. So feedback is always great, and I appreciate you saying the article’s impressive. But I don’t agree with most of what you said.

    You seem to simply dislike Islam, and that’s fine since your opinion is your own. But your argument is incoherent. For instance, your entire comment on Mohammed and his “harem of women” has absolutely nothing to do with anything. How does that relate to the article, or to the Arab Spring in general? Another thing: Judea-Christianity, the concept you say is behind modern-day democracy, explicitly endorses slavery, racial supremacy, and gender inequality. Historically, the Church has protected slave-owners and justified colonization, instead of fighting for equality. So i don’t see how you can think that Christianity is the reason behind democracy.

    It is a fact that Christianity-dominated countries are currently doing better than Islamic countires. But to think that has anything to do with religion is ridiculous. You are ignoring very powerful cultural and historical context that I suggest you get better-accquanted with. The culture of corruption and greed in Africa and the Middle East can be explained by a look at the region’s history and the “survival-of-the-fittest” mentality that European societies imposed on the region during the years of colonization. In fact, it was Christianity that was used to justify the decades of European colonization that obliterated Middle Eastern culture.

    So please, don’t ignore vital historical context, and dismiss the suffering of entire peoples as a result of their “cruel religion”. It is complete misinterpretation on your part to think that I would ever suggest such a thing.

  3. Of course you would never suggest as much. In fact it is fantastically rare for a Muslim to do; so ingrained are they with fear of being labeled an apostate. It is a rare Muslim who has the ability to see his religion for what it is and the Muslims who do are often threatened by their fellow Muslims. Rushdie, of course, being the most famous example but there are thousands of other Muslims who have been tortured, threatened and killed for being apostates.

    I agree Christianity’s history is filled with horror, but it pales in comparison to Islam. The Islamic slave trade (which still exists to day in places like Mali, Mauritania, Somalia and Niger) makes the Western slave trade look practically mild.

    But the real issue, and the one that makes Islam unique among all religions, is the role its prophet played. Unlike Buddha, Jesus, Moses or any other religious prophet, Mohammed was uniquely sadistic, selfish and vengeful.

    Here is a link to Quranic verses, Hadiths and the Sunna proving this is the case. No other religion’s source material paints a picture of a prophet anything like Mohammed; and it is little wonder that today’s Imams quote directly from these Islamic holy books to encourage Muslims to commit barbaric acts in Islam’s name.


  4. “How does that (Mohammed having a harem) relate to the article, or to the Arab Spring in general?”

    You are neglecting to put this in the context in which I intended.

    I was making the case that Mohammed’s lust for worldly power placed him at the opposite end of the spectrum from Jesus. You do not address this point but, instead, obfuscate it by taking it out of its original context.

  5. Yehia writes, “You are ignoring very powerful cultural and historical context that I suggest you get better-accquanted with. The culture of corruption and greed in Africa and the Middle East can be explained by a look at the region’s history and the “survival-of-the-fittest” mentality that European societies imposed on the region during the years of colonization. In fact, it was Christianity that was used to justify the decades of European colonization that obliterated Middle Eastern culture.”

    Not really. I do believe Christianity’s role has been anything but universally good. Christians are people and like all people can make the case for anything regardless of how absurd it might be, and Christians have been doing this forever.

    That acknowledged the differences between Christianity’s Golden Rule and the values enshrined by Mohammed are like the difference between day and night.

    I suggest it is you who misunderstands the cultural, historical and social issues at play in Islam’s history of failure versus Christianity’s history of creativity and scientific curiosity.

    Comparing Islam to Christianity is somewhat like comparing Buddhism to Christianity. These three religions are as different as they are similar and a great deal of unnecessary confusion is created by those who espouse their similarities.

    To reiterate, Jesus had no interest in worldly power.

    The Muslim holy books are filled with proof of Mohammed’s lust for power, wealth and for women.

    I’d argue Buddhism is more like Christianity than Islam is even though Islam and Christianity are both Abrahamic religions. But Christianity’s and Buddhism’s respect for turning the other cheek and treating neighbors as you would have them treat you could not be much more different that the values found in Islam where the non-Muslim is the infidel.

  6. Well, so apart from all of this, it’s just generally great that you took the time to comment, especially since not enough people do so. Religion is something that’s understood in a variety of ways, and it’s awesome to see that you’re passionate about your views. But then again, you’re also logical and thoughtful about your arguments. So thank you for offering an alternate perspective on this, different inputs are always interesting.

  7. Yehia,

    And thank you for being so reasonable about our differences. Very, very big of you and also refreshingly unusual.

    I’d encourage you to read the works of some Muslims who have chosen to leave their faith. Brilliant and brave people who found their faith restrained their ability to find satisfactory answers to both their own personal fulfillment as well as stifling their ability to make sense of the world.

    Best wishes.

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