Back to the Barricades in Egypt: Editorial by Dr. El-Baz in the Boston Herald

July 3, 2013

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By Farouk El-Baz

Egypt is at a crucial turning point — and it must not go back.

In January 2011, the world was amazed by the peaceful but determined revolt of young Egyptians against the dictatorial reign of President Hosni Mubarak. The military took over to stabilize the situation and prepare for elections, where many weak candidates neutralized each other. The result was that Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, won by 51 percent against one of Mubarak’s associates.

Having voted for Morsi in large numbers, Egypt’s young people feel betrayed and now are calling for his resignation. Their fury stems from the fact that he has failed to accomplish any of the demands of their revolt. To the contrary, his attitude quickly became dictatorial and he was unable to check the behind-the-scenes scheming by the unelected leaders of the Brotherhood.

Today, the throngs that populate Cairo’s Tahrir Square and major squares in towns across Egypt are fed up with Morsi and his “advisors.” He has proven to have a total lack of vision, and has outdone Mubarak in concentrating power in his own hands. So the youth of Egypt planned this tamarud (“rebellion” in Arabic) by collecting more than 20 million signatures of citizens who wish Morsi out of office. Because Morsi and his Brotherhood control all aspects of life in Egypt, the young who feel betrayed hold them accountable.

The people of Egypt expected their new leader to feel and behave like the president of all the people. They became disillusioned by his siding with his religious group with little respect for others. His intentional neglect has included Egypt’s Christians, who make up at least 10 percent of the country’s population and who were very visible during the January revolution.

It was expected that the new president would concentrate on safety and security after the period of unrest. However, lawlessness has become the order of the day. Women have been attacked and raped in the streets and in daylight. Remarkably, some Brotherhood members blamed the victims for walking alone without a male chaperon.

Dismantling the Ministry of Information to assure freedom of the press was a main requirement of the revolutionary forces. Morsi did the opposite, by appointing to editorial posts Brotherhood members who began to threaten free speech. They also tightened the noose on all forms of free expression, including TV comedy shows. That was taken as a direct threat to personal freedom.

The people had high hopes for a government that would improve the lot of the less-fortunate classes, and young people expected jobs for the unemployed. Morsi’s lackluster government floundered on all aspects of the economy, starting with failures to borrow or increase output. Furthermore, the government’s “religiosity” scared away tourism, the sole source of income in much of southern Egypt and a dependable source of foreign currency.

The post-Mubarak government was supposed to offer a plan for dealing with the need to increase food production and for improving education and health services. The Morsi government proved itself inept in any form of planning; it blames the ills of Egypt on “foreign fingers that play in the darkness.”

One of the expectations of the new government was to regain Egypt’s leadership in the region. Exactly the reverse occurred as the Morsi government insulted the United Arab Emirates, which had helped Egypt repeatedly since the 1970s, suspended diplomatic relations with Syria rather than working to solve its problems, been totally ineffective regarding the erection of a dam in Ethiopia that might affect the flow of the Nile in Egypt, and tried to establish relations with Iran with no benefit to Egypt. Morsi’s political ineptness was displayed for the whole world to ponder.

Finally, the one thing the young expected for themselves was to involve some members of their generation in leadership posts. The government, however, was of an older generation of people too scared to think and too slow to move in any direction, except that of the prevailing current. None is known to be a pioneer or an innovator. Stagnation prevails.

The tamarud movement is being tensely watched by outside governments that eagerly followed the Arab Spring. Egypt’s young people declared their plan, worked hard in making it happen, and will not ease the pressure until they get what their country deserves — and Egypt will be the better for it.

Farouk El-Baz is director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing and was science advisor 
to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Talk back at letterstoeditor@bostonherald.com.

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