WAMC Jan. 26, 2012
Dr. Steven A. Leibo is the Sage Colleges Professor of International History & Politics
“On the Ground in Egypt”
There is nothing like seeing a revolution up close. Which is why I set off earlier this month with the hope of learning more of what Egyptians were feeling in the year after those heady days that saw the world riveted to Tahrir Square as the Egyptian people rose up en mass to pull down the 30 year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Indeed how the Egyptian revolution is faring could not be more important for we are, after all talking here about Egypt, the Jewel in the Crown of Arab civilization. Yes Egypt, a community that sits at the heart of so many global concerns from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the struggles over oil. Struggles which have seen the United States in recent years literally spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives trying to nudge the Arab world away from oil dictators of the likes of Gaddafi or Saddam toward a more democratic and tolerant future.
And not surprisingly after a trip spent hour after hour, day after day talking to Egyptians from a great many walks of life I found a nation full of both pessimism and ambivalent enthusiasm about the future. All which was clouded by a deep sense of buyer’s remorse, a nation exuberant because the Mubarak dictatorship is gone and yet still struggling to recognize how deeply incomplete last year’s victory really was.
A nation today more clearly cognizant that their revolution had forced out only the most obvious parts of the dictatorial establishment, that part most directly associated with the regime of Mubarak and his son. A revolution that still left the underlying military core of the regime as vehemently committed as ever to maintaining its special powers and economic privileges. Yet many Egyptians today are also excited by the prospects for their newly elected parliament — one more legitimate than any in the thousands of years of Egyptian history despite their concerns about how genuine its power might become.
Even as many Egyptian women have a stinging sense that the revolution has won them few gains and at times a worsening situation. Ironic considering, as we all saw last year, women were at the forefront of the struggle. Yet women have gained almost no new political voices in the new Egypt and for so many women the core dilemma. Yes the core dilemma that as in so many relatively traditional societies—as Egypt remains a genuinely more democratic vote can easily bring forth leaders however democratically elected who are often less sympathetic to women’s rights than the more westernized and yet dictatorial military elites who have long led the region.
But most of what one experiences on the streets and in famous Tahrir square, an area most of the time perhaps more challenging as a busy traffic circle than a place of revolutionary drama is a sense of an unfinished revolution. But which is at this very moment is dealing with the challenge of an ever weakening economy.
This is after all Egypt, the home of perhaps the world’s first great tourist industry that sees with every turn of the revolutionary drama projected on screens from CNN to Al Jazeera the misguided cancelation of the very tourist visits which have for generations been one of the mainstays of the economy.
Which is why it’s worth mentioning that anyone with an interest in seeing the Egyptians smoothly transition to a more open society should strongly consider traveling to Egypt right now. Because if Egypt’s transformation is going to be a success the very tourists who have beaten a path to wonders of ancient Egypt’s door for hundreds of years need to return. To return as a show of support for the Egyptian people and perhaps in a rather selfish way to take advantage of the opportunity to see some of the greatest wonders of human civilization at cut rate prices without the crowds of tourists that usually get in the way of such travels.