In Egypt, signs of hope, not 'hijacking' [Letter]

I have been working in Egypt on various development projects for more than 15 years now and have been present here for seven to eight months in each of the past three years. I have personally witnessed every significant sociopolitical event here over that time and am in constant conversation about those events with my Egyptian project staff who are themselves politically diverse. My opinion is that much of the western media reporting over the past three years has been very superficial — often lop-sided — and often simply wrong. The kindest description would be "lazy reporting," but stronger language and harsher characterizations spring easily to mind, especially when watching CNN coverage of events here.

Analytical pieces and commentaries have been better generally better (at least less infuriating), but not without sometimes significant shortcomings. The recent commentary by David Super ("We have failed Egypt," Feb. 23) is a case in point. Notwithstanding the title of this piece, there is very little comment, let-alone discussion, about how the U.S. has failed Egypt. More valuable would have been some discussion of "why," but that requires a reasonable "how" platform as a context. Unfortunately, this commentary is much more about how Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has co-opted the peoples' will to initiate yet another dictatorship. It would have been more honest to title the piece accordingly. Also, it would have been more valid an opinion if the contentions presented were based on facts.


The claim that the latest constitution was "...drafted by a narrow committee to entrench those in power and the all-but-certain accession of Minister of Defense Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the presidency" is laughable given multiple reports describing the drafting process as refreshingly inclusive of Egyptian society. Even Al Jazeera which is clearly not a fan of the regime reported that "….the Committee comprises an impressively diverse cross section of Egyptian political and societal interests…." Indeed, the committee included prominent and generally respected representatives from human rights organizations, law, education, the arts, journalism, labor unions, farmers unions, youth movements, student unions, commerce, industry, religion (Islam, Coptic, Catholic, Protestant) and other un-affiliated notable figures. Although certainly not perfect, the majority view seems to be that the drafting process of this latest constitution has been more inclusive, collaborative and rights-based than the previous two versions which were written virtually exclusively by the "military junta" (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood, respectively. Whereas the Brotherhood refused to participate in this last process, the other main Islamic party (Salafist Nour Party) did participate notwithstanding their opposition to a non-Islamic charter. Which elements of this constitution entrench those in power and facilitate an al-Sisi accession to the presidency?

The outright characterization of al-Sisi as a hijacker of the people's revolution and a dictator in-the-making, and the inference that Egyptians are worried about this and only "….seem inclined to give Field Marshal al-Sisi an opportunity…." similarly flies in the face of the on-the-ground reality I observe here on a daily basis. I see no "reluctant inclination" among a majority of Egyptians relative to al-Sisi. Many of the 30 million who took to the streets to call for President Mohammed Morsi to step down were concurrently calling for al-Sisi to step-up. The following weekend, millions again came out explicitly to support al-Sisi and call on him to stand for presidential elections. Exit polls during the constitution referendum illustrated that many of the 20 million voters had not read the constitution in any detail but came out to vote as a sign of support for al-Sisi. Since then and as of Jan 30, the Kamil Gimeelak ("Complete Your Favour") campaign has collected over 24 million signatures on petitions asking al-Sisi to "finish his duty to Egypt" by standing for president. It is no exaggeration to say that al-Sisi is the most popular person in the country. Most people here seem to believe that he is a true patriot, religious and moral, and strong enough to serve the best interests of the country. By all accounts, it is al-Sisi who appears to be reluctant to take on this burden, and to-date still has not announced his decision in this regard.


Is this all a show, an exceptionally effective manipulation of the masses? Possibly, but not based on the evidence to date. Is it ideal to have yet another military man at the helm rather than a civilian? No, but it is wrong to pre-judge the future on the basis of selective past events. By all accounts, Hosni Mubarak was a pretty good president in his first ten years and at his worst in the last ten of his 30-years reign. The two-term limit in the new constitution should work in favor of limiting the corrupting influence of long-term power. Similarly, whereas most of the previous SCAF were graduates of the Soviet Union's military college, the current SCAF (including al-Sisi) are graduates of the U.S. Military College. I would hope that the difference in philosophy between these two organizations (the people in the service of the military vs. the military in the service of the people) would be reflected at least somewhat in their behavior. Continued strong military-to-military interaction between the U.S. and Egypt would likely be useful in promoting the U.S. approach to military behavior.

Please note that I am not trying to make a case on behalf of al-Sisi. I am simply pointing out that the case against al-Sisi as presented in Mr. Super's commentary is superficial and devoid of any evidence to support the contentions made. Indeed, the facts-on-the-ground are contrary to the contentions made. We may not like or agree with the choices Egyptians make — in the previous election or the next one — but manufacturing a case for the people's will having been hijacked in the absence of evidence robs them of the dignity of their choices. It is wrong and disrespectful.

Richard Szudy, Toronto, Ontario


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