On the 4th of July I had a facebook conversation with a young man I’ve “known” for some years but never met in the flesh. As far as I can tell, he’s a likable sort of person, hard-working and law-abiding.
I mentioned the 4th celebrations, and asked how his life was going. He confessed he was afraid he’d be killed or imprisoned.
He lives in Egypt.
His whole family was active in the demonstrations that ousted Mubarak. When I hoped none of them were hurt, he answered, “My father only faints one day because of gasses bombs.” Like the majority of Egyptians last year, he voted for Mohammad Morsi.
Facebooking this young man is a fascinating experience. When our U.S. media reports the big picture through their lenses, Hassan tells me how Egyptians on the ground see it. It’s like viewing a photograph of someone mowing a lawn, and then chatting with the ants in the grass.
Even when I expressed hope for Egypt after the fall of Mubarak, Hassan predicted trouble. As early as March 2012 he told me that Mubarak’s old followers were making trouble behind the scenes by disrupting the economy, so that no matter who won the election last June, they’d be hamstrung. As it turned out, Egypt’s economy took a nosedive and, as Hassan predicted, everyone blamed Morsi.
He also believed that Israel and America were collaborating in trying to subtly undermine Morsi’s government. Can he prove that? Only through his day-to-day experience. But it does seem as if Morsi never had a chance.
Morsi had little experience actually governing. His previous experience was being arrested and persecuted for trying to implement democracy in Egypt. He made some mistakes.
We in the U.S.A. know if we get a president we don’t like, we either vote him out four years later, or, if he’s been exceptionally bad, as in evil bad, impeach him right away. We don’t riot in the streets. But Egyptians’ experience of trying to vote out Mubarak told them waiting doesn’t work. What worked was massive demonstrations. So they did it again, and Egypt’s army obligingly had a coup. Or not, depending on who’s writing your political speeches for you. The fact is, Army in, Morsi out.
On July 3, Hassan and a lot of others – families, kids, – went to a peaceful demonstration in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, in support of Morsi. As Hassan said, “We were armed with flags only.” The army attacked them; several people were killed and several dozen were wounded. I hadn’t heard of it until Hassan told me; when I googled it the only web page I could find was “unavailable.”
A lot of Americans are gloating over Morsi’s ouster. Just checking the comments on Yahoo! websites, the feeling seems to be about seven to one that it was a good thing.
Morsi may have got a lot wrong, but I don’t think we should applaud his downfall. Morsi was their legally elected president. If they want a real democracy, they have to take a little time to learn to use democracy’s tools, not mob rule. It’s hard for them because all they’ve had within living memory is: Pasha, British Rule, King, dictator, dictator, dictator, and overthrow by demonstrations. Representative government is a new experiment for Egypt.
In some ways, Americans had an easier time setting up our system of government. Back in 1776, we were accustomed to the British Parliamentary system, and each of the colonies had a governing body. We knew how it operated. What caused the revolution was not that we didn’t have any democratic institutions, it was that the colonies weren’t represented in the British Parliament. And by the way, we weren’t rebelling over taxation, the way the Tea Party claims. Our slogan was “No taxation without REPRESENTATION.”
Now Egypt is trying to develop a system which took the U.K. and U.S.A. a very long time to evolve. Whether or not the U.S.A. liked Mohammad Morsi, I mourn the setback to democracy there. In the week when Americans gobble untold tons of hot dogs, oooh and aaah at fireworks (Grayling had a cracking good display, thanks), and pat ourselves on the back over our Independence, I think we owe Egyptians a moment of sorrow in their struggle to self-determination.