Depression and frustration: A first-hand account of turmoil in Egypt
Michael Cipriano | 11/14/13 5:33am
[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in our print edition on October 25.]
It is hard for Seif Omar to truly relax in the comfortable atrium of AU’s SIS building. On a beautiful autumn afternoon, he can’t help but wonder about his turbulent homeland of Egypt and the safety of his family. Omar, a junior in the School of Communication, frequently thinks about the events he witnessed this summer.
“I have been affected, everyone has been affected in the sense that depression has caused a very big frustration,” Omar says. “Everyone in the streets is very angry. Everyone is paranoid. When you’re walking in the street, if you hear a motorcycle going by, you jump.”
Omar worries about his mom and brother.
“My mom, she can handle herself,” he says. “But if anything actually happens…You don’t know your future for sure. You don’t know the future of Egypt for sure.”
At the start of 2011, President Hosni Mubarak had been in power for nearly 30 years. The poor were growing poorer, more than they had ever been before under the two previous presidents, and there was social inequality everywhere. Jobs were scarce and people didn’t have money. According to the Associated Press, nearly half of Egypt’s 80 million people live under or just above the poverty line set by the United Nations at $2 a day.
“It was just a very hard life for at least, I’ll tell you like 40 percent of all of Egypt,” Omar said.
A revolution began Jan. 25, 2011, when tens of thousands of Egyptians filled the streets of several of the country’s cities, including Alexandria, Suez and Mansura, to demand the end of Mubarak’s reign of power. The police used rubber bullets and tear gas to drive back the protesters.
The demonstrations were largely fueled by the death of an anti-government blogger named Khaled Said in 2010, who witnesses say was beaten to death by the Egyptian police. The government disputed these allegations and an anonymous human rights activist created a Facebook page titled, “We Are All Khaled Said.” According to The New York Times, hundreds of thousands of people joined the page, making it the biggest dissident Facebook page in Egypt.
“The police was sort of an enemy force, because the people saw them as defenders of Mubarak,” Omar said. “They used violence, they did. They took bribes all the time.”
Mubarak resigned after 18 days of demonstrations. After his resignation, the Muslim Brotherhood became legalized and formed a political party called the Freedom and Justice Party. They won nearly half the 498 seats in the 2011-12 parliamentary election, and its candidate Mohamed Morsi, won the presidential election.
Morsi’s victory was largely disputed. Omar said the Brotherhood helped shaped the election’s outcome through bribery, threats and false votes. Its members also went to the countryside to give people sandwiches and sell them of a better future for their vote.
“A lot of the illiterate, ignorant people vote for them because, I mean why wouldn’t you?” Omar said.
Morsi’s reign of power led to the spread of violence from the Brotherhood throughout Egypt. Omar described how its members were going around the country, robbing people at will.
“If they see a car on its own, they corner it, they stop it in the highway, they hijack it, they rob you.” he said. “They take your car, they take everything.”
Omar had two friends and a former Arabic teacher who were robbed at knifepoint by the Brotherhood in broad daylight. Atrocities like these created a sense of depression around the country, Omar said.
“People are murdered in ways you can’t even imagine,” he said. “You see such crazy stuff, at this point right now, everyone is taking it in stride as like, all you can do is pray.”
According to Omar, the Brotherhood has burned at least 18 churches and captured a number of policemen. Its members once slit the throats of three policemen after accusing them of being traitors, simply for not agreeing with them.
“They [the Brotherhood] are the type of people who are terrorists in the sense that they have only one point of view, and they think that they ought to slaughter in the name of their religion,” Omar says. “And that is not what Islam is and that is not what it represents. People are furious because their religion is being used for violence.”
The military played a unique role in the lives of Egyptians during this time. It posted checkpoints on the streets in response to the car thefts where it would check bags and licenses. Omar described one incident where the military stopped a car filled with about 20 members of the Brotherhood. It found and confiscated guns and other weapons they were carrying.
“They’re providing safety in that kind of sense,” Omar said. “If you see something suspicious you can tell them and they will cooperate with you. They are protecting us in every way possible.”
After only one year in power, Egypt fared no better under Morsi. A group of young people called “Tamarrod,” which means rebellion, garnered over 20 million signatures calling for Morsi to step down. 33 million then took to the streets in mass protests throughout the country.
Omar and his family personally took part in the demonstrations. He was originally on the north coast of Egypt when the protests began. He and his family wanted to be a part of them and drove all the way back to Cairo to join them.
“We watched the news in the morning,” Omar said. “We couldn’t just sit there.”
Omar and his family protested in Tahrir Square one night and went to Al Etihadeya the next day. He saw a number of people he knew and described the demonstrations as, “an insane experience.”
“You meet a lot of random people, like an old teacher, an old friend from middle schedule,” he said. “It was really nice, because they really were peaceful protests.”
The military forced Morsi out of power three days later, and inserted Adly Mansour as the acting president.
Though Omar recognized the historic moment, he said that many Egyptians, he included, were frustrated with the media’s coverage of the events. He said one of their biggest problems was outlets like CNN were calling the ousting of Morsi a coup d’état.
“A coup d’état means that the military has taken control of power in the country,” Omar says. “That’s not what happened.”
Omar also said the anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters were pictured as the Brotherhood supporters on CNN and the real supporters were shown as the anti-government protesters.
“That’s very insulting,” he says.
Since’s Morsi’s removal from power, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters banned “all activities” by the Muslim Brotherhood, according to BBC. The ruling will apply to the Islamist movement, its non-governmental organization and any affiliated groups. It also ordered the interim government to seize the Brotherhood’s funds and form a panel to administer its frozen assets until any appeal had been heard.
Omar says that although he is not a professional, he believes one of two things will happen going forward in Egypt. One possibility is a civil war will break out because of how the Brotherhood’s continued actions. The other is the turmoil will subside a shortly after the new elections.
“The mistake people do not want to repeat anymore is to have the constitution before we elect a president,” Omar says. “Because last time when Morsi won, what he did was he released an amendment in the constitution that gave him full legislative and judicial power, which means that anyone who goes against him was guilty of defying the country. To them, ‘You’re not with us? Oh, okay, you’re against us. You’re an infidel. You’re a traitor. You are meant to die or go to jail.’ So going on forward, there is hope, I think things will go relatively smoothly, because no one wants to see more massacres.”