It’s not every day that your Egyptian Facebook friend claims: “So many gun shots at night. GOD help us,” and “‘Army and people one hand’: that is the welcoming from the people to the Army, downtown and everywhere all over Egypt.” The effect is both chilling and enlightening for Westerners to hear, but one cannot begin to imagine the euphoria that Egyptians must be feeling these days. So allow me to indulge you in the street knowledge I gathered during my nine months in Cairo, Egypt last year and purport what I see as Egypt’s — and hopefully the U.S.’s — new political enlightenment among the chaos.
In a world where there are few black and white explanations, Egypt is a very colorful and complex country. Politically, the Muslim Brotherhood makes up 20 percent of the population, but its organization was already having internal reforms of its own between the old guard and the new generation. A Muslim Brotherhood member I met was sporting European brands and fashion, and emphasized his hope for the more liberal and Western-incorporating school of Muslim Brotherhood ideology over the Nasserite veterans. Many optimists contend that Egypt is similar to how Southeast Asia was socially and economically 30 to 40 years ago — educated yet prepubescent. Pessimists tended to see an Egypt with Hosni and his son, Gamal Mubarak, outruling the Pharaohs.
Hosni Mubarak is nothing but a Cold War relic incepted as ruler in a time when partaking in the U.S.’s global security apparatus was a strategic advantage. Furthermore, with the consent of the American government, Egypt hosts the second largest U.S. embassy in the world (outside Iraq) and receives $1.5 billion in U.S. foreign aid for American foreign interests. Mubarak has been able to keep at bay or silence the Islamist, social and political opposition. In essence, his legitimacy to rule stood on the shoulders of a 20th century giant. Now in the 21st century, he struggles to balance the dying support of his old creditors while facing a people not just mad at his government for failing to provide jobs and respect among the Arab world, but a people envious of the modern world that could be theirs.
Far too often, Egyptians with master’s degrees in business, credentials from law school and Bachelor of Science degrees in engineering have no hope for job prospects other than as peon waiters in Egyptian cafés. The Egyptian aspiration is far reaching, calling out toward domestic and international aid to make Egypt for Egyptians. Like Egypt’s realization, the U.S. government needs to formulate a new form of foreign and domestic policy. However, unlike 30 years ago, it is Egypt who is telling America how to act more so than the reverse.
The U.S. should not jump on the Egyptian bandwagon and try being their civil rights leader, as that is the decision of Egypt’s own people. But the U.S. needs to make sure that it does not continue to support oppressive governments because, in the words of John F. Kennedy, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”