On Egypt- Interview with Egyptian Morsi Supporter Mohamed Abaza
“I now realize that it will take a long time for Egypt to practice democracy the way the democratic countries do.”
Mr. Mohamed Abaza is a former colleague of mine. Given the turmoil in Egypt and seeking the viewpoint of an ordinary Egyptian citizen who had experienced life in the United States, the Forum and Link sought Mr. Abaza for an online interview with questions about the situation in Egypt. When reading this interview, keep two things in mind. One, that the interview was done in July-August of 2013 but there was no opportunity to publish it earlier. A lot has happened since not least of which the bloody crackdown on the protesters. But at the core of the crisis the issues are still the same with the heart of the matter being the democracy question. Second, Mr. Abaza identifies himself as a Morsi supporter.
1. What is going on in Egypt today- is it a civil war?
It is not yet a civil war and I personally doubt a civil war can happen in Egypt due to the nature of the Egyptians. However, many people are warning of repeating the Algerian scenario. So far, it is a political unrest that started politically but then pushed toward violence. According to eye witnesses, thugs were used in the beginning by the police to give the impression that these are clashes between the supporters of Morsi and the opponents. Now the army came in directly. This was so unexpected.
2. How did the crisis start?
The crisis started ever since Morsi became a president. The call for his fall started as early as August 2012, two months after his came in. There were 24 calls for mass demonstrations throughout the past year, an average of one every two weeks. All of them systematically ended with violence. He was under a heavy media “artillery” from day one and every minute mistake would put him and his government under the spotlight. For the last three months, the media was preparing the people to go down the street to end Morsi's presidency and his attempts to “Ikwasnize the state.” They used some economic indicators, the security crisis, and the power and gas shortages, to encourage the people to do so. The army gave the impression that they divorced politics after they handed the presidency to Morsi and after their bitter experience with politics when they took over the country from Mubarak for a short period. However, there were repeated calls for the army from the so- called "civil currents" to intervene in political affairs to preserve the "civility" of Egypt and to preserve the Egyptian identity. The army was usually urging the different political groups to work out a solution themselves. All of a sudden, the head of the armed forces sent a warning to the political elite to find a solution with 7 days or the army will have to intervene to save the country from the turmoil. At the end of the seven days, they gave two more days to find a solution or they will put their own road map. At the end of the grace period, the armed forces ousted President Morsi and you know the rest. This triggered Morsi's supporters to demonstrate to ask for Morsi's return. This is a very short answer. There are hundreds of details that cannot be included in a short answer. By the way, we had zero power shortage and we no longer have any gas shortage since June 30th.
3. Is the conflict affecting all areas of the country or just certain areas where the protesters are gathering?
The spots where the demonstrations are taking place are not only in Cairo but rather in almost every city. However, they are most effective in Cairo due to the capital's weight. If you are familiar with Cairo, the city is huge however the traffic there is one of the most annoying everyday problems to those who live there. So blocking two of the most essential squares in Cairo and Giza can spread the effect to almost everywhere. If this problem remains until the opening of the schools in September it will be a serious problem.
4. Is the conflict at heart in Egypt today a secular/Islamist divide? Is there a way to bridge the gap?
This is what the media is portraying the conflict. The fact is that most of Morsi's supporters are religious but not necessarily Islamist or Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamic parties won 71% of the parliament seats and could pass the Constitution with a majority of 64%. I can positively say that the Islamists constitute that percentage of the total population.
5. Is the conflict straining families and personal relationships? Are people talking to each other openly?
Definitely. Politics ruined many relationships since the eruption of the revolution in 2011 and the tension escalated as the country geared towards the parliamentary and presidential elections as well as the two referendums. I personally lost too many friends and relatives due to tense discussions via face book.
6. In Lebanon many businesses reacted to the divided politics of the country by putting signs that talking about politics is not allowed? Is that happening in Egypt? mI saw this for the first time today. I also started asking people whom I meet with for business purposes not to talk about politics because none of us will change each other opinion. It will only tense the relationship.
7. Now that Morsi is forcefully removed-What is going to happen next?
There is no simple answer for this question. I don't think the protesters will go home any time soon before Morsi is at least released. They are also concerned that the oppressive practices of Mubarak's State Security "Amn El Dawla" is going back to their old pre-revolution practices. All pro- Morsi TV stations were closed and many activists and Muslim Brotherhood leadership have been arrested without proper legal procedure. On the other hand, the military mentality makes me pessimistic. In my opinion, the release of Morsi can pave the way for some deal to move on. Morsi can no longer rule Egypt the way he used to do throughout the past year. It became obvious that the old regime and its components are much stronger than him.
8. We see a lot of people on the streets. Are businesses open and people going to work?
Life has almost stopped for one week since June 28th and three days before that due the gas shortage. However, they started to get back to normal two days ago. They go to their work in the morning then they join the strike in rab3a and Nahda after hours. Supporters of the coup can no longer bring masses to Tahrir.
9. Is democracy possible in Egypt? Are you optimistic about the future?
I was so optimistic after the fall of Mubarak. We had very high expectations. We thought that corruption is easy to fight. I realized that it is not that simple. Another factor that complicated the scene was the fear tactic that both sides used. The Islamists, especially the Salafists, presented themselves as the protectors of Islam against the seculars and even Shi3a when Morsi tried to establish some sort of limited relationships with Iran. On the other hand, secularists and leftists present themselves as the protectors of the "Civil State" from the "Theocrats". No focus whatsoever from the secularists and opponents of Morsi was on solving the ordinary citizen problem like bread, sanitation, traffic, and security. Morsi focused on these problems and made a significant progress on bread, wheat production, and cooking gas. It was clear to many ordinary people that the problem was not the failure of Morsi but rather his success.
I now realize that it will take a long time for Egypt to practice democracy the way the democratic countries do.