The eyes of the world have been on Egypt this year as the 30-year stability of the Mubarak regime collapsed in the wake of popular protests that have since echoed throughout the Arab world (and been mischaracterized in the now-ubiquitous phrase, “Arab Spring”).
Speculation and analysis abound about the future of our relations with Egypt, the ascendancy there of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the threat of impending war with Israel. There is no shortage of pundits on the outside looking in, but for a perspective from the eye of the storm, so to speak, I reached out to interview my courageous friend Cynthia Farahat in Cairo.
Cynthia is a young political activist, dissident, and Coptic Christian – a combination that paints a bright red target on one’s back in Egypt. Her recent article in the Middle East Quarterly and an interview with Bill Whittle of PJTV have begun to earn her recognition as an expert political analyst.
Mark Tapson: Let’s begin by talking about your politics and your work.
Cynthia Farahat: My political philosophy is somewhere between American Conservatism and Objectivism, and I am very fond of and inspired by the American Tea Party movement. I have learned so much from the Tea Parties all the way out here in Cairo.
My political activism began after 9/11, for two reasons: first, I was heartbroken by the shocking evil and cowardice of the attacks on the unsuspecting, peaceful people in the Twin Towers. Second, I was compelled by the fact that those people were paying tax dollars to fund the so-called “moderate” Mubarak dictatorship, whose state-sponsored media celebrated 9/11 and the death of American “infidels.” The virtue of empathy is severely lacking in Arab regimes. We don’t even have a word for “empathy” in Arabic.
I saw that I would be compliant with their crimes if I stayed silent. My main goal is to collaborate with strong secular civil groups against theocratic forces, because I have seen their ideas fly into your buildings. So I met with like-minded people and co-founded the Egyptian Liberal Party, the first political party in Egypt that openly calls for secularism and capitalism. Our party was banned by a court order at the same time that the Mubarak regime opened up the parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood. I always believed the Brotherhood was part of the Mubarak regime, and that he couldn’t have functioned without it.
MT: When the so-called “Arab Spring” kicked off in Egypt, I know you were very optimistic and excited about the possibilities for liberal democracy in Egypt. Has your perspective changed any since then?
CF: My optimism is still strong, but it’s not merely a hopeful delusion. I used to believe that if someone is optimistic about Arab or Egyptian politics there must be something wrong with them. I still believe this regarding the government because the system has not changed: almost half the Egyptian workforce works for the government. Hardly anything can change in the presence of such a massive bureaucracy.
My optimism stems from my conclusion after observing the Egyptian people during the protests, and up until now. For the first time in six decades Egyptian masses started demanding their rights, and demanding democracy and a peaceful transition of power, which is a major step against Islamic fundamentalism.
I saw a remarkable and unexpected display of civility, tolerance, and well-articulated demands from unorganized Egyptian protesters. The Egypt I lived in all my life under Mubarak was certainly not the Egypt I saw in Tahrir Square, apart from the regime thugs that attacked protesters and journalists. Rejecting Mubarak brought out the best in Egypt.
Demanding democracy in an Islamic constitutional theocracy is in fact a secular demand, an implicit recognition that Egyptian masses reject the concept of khilāfa, the caliphate, and that the reference for governance should be the people and not Sharia Law. This frightens other Arab dictators and the Muslim Brotherhood, who started having serious organizational problems because the massive wave of demands for democracy has impacted their internal structure.
Having said that, I’m still very realistic in my expectations. It certainly is a long process but this is the first step. Egyptians have been enslaved and silenced under an Islamic socialist military dictatorship for 60 years. Free speech is almost always severely punished by harassment, threats, torture, imprisonment or death. Egyptians have been isolated, intimidated and brainwashed into perceiving a distorted version of reality and the outside world. It would be utopian and unreal to expect them now to the say all the things we want to hear. But that certainly is the first step, and there is no going back.
MT: Middle East analysts such as Barry Rubin believe “Egypt is the New Iran,” that just as “Jimmy Carter’s incompetence helped give us Islamist Iran, Barack Obama’s incompetence and ideology helped give us radical (perhaps Islamist) Egypt.” Do you think that’s a legitimate comparison, that Egypt is rapidly and inevitably becoming a fundamentalist Islamic state openly hostile to America and Israel?
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