Joe Podelco / Photo editor
In the past week, there have been numerous opinions on the situation unfolding in Egypt. Of those, many — including one piece in The Lantern on Monday — have questioned whether these mass protests will be capable of bringing out true change that the West might find acceptable. Or, as Michael Jaskot’s Lantern piece said, there’s “not a chance” that “these protesters spark enough drive to replace the regime and establish a transparent democracy capable of earning the respect of the Western world.”
Aside from the factual errors, as an Egyptian American, I think that’s simply the wrong way to look at it.
Having been both born and raised in Egypt, I’ve had the displeasure of seeing first-hand what the situation for the average Egyptian is like. We’re fortunate in this country that we haven’t had to contemplate what life under a corrupt authoritarian regime would be like. As much as some of us can choose to disagree with President Barack Obama, we still operate under the rule of law with a balance of power. The mere fact that we can disagree strongly and openly against the government only goes to show just how fortunate our situation really is.
So, picture the opposite for a second.
Imagine a country where the police officer wields an astounding amount of power and clout. In this country, any random person on any random street can be picked up, quite randomly, on the orders of any police officer just because they want to. They can then be held, without charge, in any arbitrary location for any amount of time. This system, called the Emergency Law system, has been in place for the past 30 years.
Now, imagine that this same country features a large disparity between the very rich and the very poor. As a few businessmen have a disproportionate control on the economy, about 20 percent of the country lives on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank, and roughly 33 percent of the population is illiterate, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
That is how we should think of Egypt and its uprisings. It’s a despicable situation that would easily cause any of us to act out in a similar way, demanding simple freedoms and rights. I think the main problem is that sometimes we tend to speak from a high pedestal, as we take many things for granted. That then takes the humanity out of the equation.
For the record, I honestly don’t think Egypt’s relationship with the West will be hugely affected by this. Egypt and Israel have always been two of America’s best friends in the region, and that’s because of a number of economic and political factors that aren’t going to go away under an Egyptian democracy.
If you look at the people in these protests, they’re disproportionately young and coming from all walks of life. Just as you have the ones that sympathize with some religiously conservative political parties, there’s an even bigger number of those that don’t. Churches, alongside mosques, have been organizing aid and other help to these protesters.
The people on the streets don’t all belong to one specific religion, gender or party affiliation. They’re as diverse as Egypt is, representing men, women, youths, seniors, Christians, Muslims, the ultra conservatives, and the strong liberals. In short, they’re not a specific group; they’re simply the Egyptian people acting out, after having been fed up of tyranny, dictatorship and the lack of human dignity.
As the fervent supporter of democracy in the world, we should stand alongside the Egyptians. If not politically, at least support their personal quest for freedom, which relates to how many countries in the West protested against their own dictatorships.
A free, just, democratic Egypt will be good for everyone. It will be a positive addition to the world. As simple human beings, we should find it in our common humanity to support their freedom of choice, regardless of who they’d like to use their voting powers to elect.