Egypt: Why should it matter to us?

Jan 31, 2011, 2:29 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

Cairo, Egypt is about 6,800 miles from Seattle, Washington. We’ve all seen pictures of rocks being thrown, soldiers in the streets of Cairo, people looting, protesters denouncing their own government. Why does it matter to anyone here?

Here are some thoughts about the question from a journalist in the Middle East, Claire Berlinski :

U.S. military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually. Your money, in other words, is keeping [Hosni]Mubarak in power. Many of the people now protesting in Egypt want what every American takes as his birthright: democracy, dignity, rule of law, civil rights.

Though the blackout makes it hard to understand exactly what’s happening, it is highly improbable that anti-democratic forces would not try to exploit this unrest. This is a dream come true for Egypt’s Islamists, obviously. Quite some number of those Islamists, for sure, wish you and your children dead. Even if nothing about these photos and images touches you in any way, I can promise you that total anarchy in Egypt, or an Islamist regime there, would end up touching you.

The fact that we are supporting the Mubarak regime may not be immediately obvious to most Americans, but it is the central fact about America to every Egyptian alive–to 83 million people in the heart of the Middle East. The Mubarak government is basically friendly to the United States, but it is right now crushing its own people. If it succeeds, we will not be identified with the man who is protesting. We will be identified with the men who are acting on behalf of the government. In fact, we already are.

If it doesn’t succeed, God knows what will happen. Maybe something good–maybe the blossoming, at last, of real democracy in this region. Or maybe something so awful as to make Iran look like a bagatelle.

We owe it to them at least to try to understand what’s happening.

A few hundred people met in downtown Seattle to rally in support of the Egyptian people and their ongoing political protests. Photos from the rally here. Among those at the rally was Jasmin Radwan, an exchange student in Seattle from the American University in Cairo. She’s at the University of Washington studying Political Science.

Jasmine“I plan on going back with what I learn here to help Egypt develop in terms of social well-fare. I feel that after the current events there will be much to do in terms of starting over and working towards a better future; that’s what I want to help do,” says Radwan.

Here’s our email conversation about the demonstrations in her “home town.”

Q: Mubarak has been in power for so many years, most Americans assume he’s an ally. What is wrong with Mubarak as a leader?

A: First of all Mubarak has been in power for 30 years! He has had the emergency law, which is the equivalent of the American Patriot Act, that has justified torture, corruption, curb political participation and freedom of speech by coercion. The main problem with the American aid or consideration of Mubarak as an ally is that the aid that comes to Egypt from USA does not go towards social betterment at all. Infrastructure is poor, public medical care is impoverish, unemployment rates are increasing, national education is weak, and people don’t experience any kind of democracy that the USA feels the money is in support of.

Q: Why should we care about demonstrations in Egypt, How does it have a connection to our every day lives in Seattle?

A: What the Egyptians want is not intervention from America. We just want people to be aware that their tax money goes towards support of a tyrant with 1.3 billion dollars in annual aid. Egypt is the third largest recipient of aid from America, and yet continues to live in impoverished circumstances- not to mention lack of democracy that Americans value and the government claims to support. Americans have the power to pressure the American government representatives, and that is why Egyptians in America have been rallying. On a moral level at least, Americans should care for the freedom and civil rights of oppressed people everywhere.

Q: One thing that concerns me about what’s happening in Egypt is that the Internet/mobile connections have been shut down. Have you been able to connect with any of your family or friends in Egypt?

A: On the 25th when the protesting started I was getting instantaneous updates via my Facebook account from friends that were downtown Cairo. They took pictures and videos on their cell-phones and uploaded them right away for the world to see. After that connection was cut, it almost felt like the government just didn’t want the international community to see what was going on there- and that’s what scared me the most. I have been able to get in touch with my parents through land-lines and mobile service has come back for calls (not sms or blackberry service) as of just yesterday, so at least that is better, but the lack of internet is still worrisome.

Q: Do you have any fear for your own safety in speaking out against the government in Egypt?

A: No. I feel safe expressing my opinion because I know I now live in a democratic country that is open to freedom of expression. And that is precisely what is lacking in Egypt and that’s all the people are risking their lives bravely to attain.

This video made the rounds through social media over the weekend – at least in locations outside of Egypt, which has killed the Internet. Tamer Shaaban created it. He describes himself as, “Another Egyptian who’s had enough.”


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Egypt: Why should it matter to us?