The following is a post from AUA contributing blogger Eric Mlyn, Executive Director of Duke Engage at Duke University. Eric is now in Egypt, where he is serving as a senior fellow for the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo. He is also writing about his experiences on his blog, Notes from Cairo.
This is one if many times that I wish I could speak Arabic. We are in the airport in Hurghada, on our way back from a long Thanksgiving weekend on the Red Sea where we snorkeled, go-carted (Noah went so fast on his first lap that he drove off the track) , and ate Nathan’s with great disappointment as the french fries were good but not authentic and the hot dogs virtually inedible. I told the man at the counter that the hot dogs were not good – and indeed I used my limited Arabic – but he was not impressed. He just said OK.
On the television in the waiting area here at the airport is a broadcast of a meeting of the judges’ syndicate, who are objecting to the recent Presidential decree that makes presidential decisions not subject to judicial review. I don’t know what they are saying, but they seem angry and defiant in the face of President Morsi’s presidential decree that seeks to consolidate power in his office by side stepping the judiciary and firing the general prosecutor.
It seems that President Morsi was riding high here after upstaging Hilary Clinton in Cairo and fired the general prosecutor who refused to be fired and sent to the Vatican months ago. ( I just asked the man sitting next to me what they were saying on the television. He told me not much, that it was a lot of posturing and words with no real action. Mahmoud, a 1993 graduate of AUC, had a theory that Noah heard on television, that in fact the US gave the green light to Morsi to consolidate power in return for his restraint of Hamas in Gaza. I personally tend to reject these kinds of conspiracies, but given the very mild statement that came out of the US State Department about Morsi’s actions today, who knows?)
What I do know, according to Leah who stayed in Cairo this weekend, is that some are saying there will be a new revolution. I doubt this. Unpredictability and some potential for chaos seems to be the norm now here. I don’t say this lightly, as each one of these eruptions and disruptions is deeply dislocating for so many. Images once again on CNN showing angry men on the street was of course not good news for Max, our British guide who took us snorkeling this morning and said that this kind of news kills tourism, and told us that during the revolution he had no business and spent most of this time drinking beer and watching CNN. He suggested to us that if things get bad in Cairo that we should just come hang out in El Ghouna. Were this to happen, I would definitely take up wind surfing as it looked like great fun out on the turquoise Red Sea.
President Morsi does seem to have overstepped a bit here, and his subsequent conciliatory tone toward those liberals and secularists who have taken to the streets bodes well for a peaceful resolution of this latest governmental and constitutional crisis. I would not be surprised to see Morsi continue this tone as tensions hopefully calm. There are few who would argue with the fact that that this accidental president (called a “spare tire” by some) was elected in fair democratic elections, a first in this country. As such, he enjoys legitimacy until he totally squanders it. Thus far, he has proven to be more politically savvy and astute than most thought he would be. In August few understood his audacity when he fired General Tatawi, but this held and is now seen as a very positive step for the revolution.
I remember when we flew from JFK to Cairo months ago that I chuckled to myself as I read an article in the English Egypt Daily News that suggested that protests should be banned. How silly I thought, don’t they understand what democracy is? That protest is a fundamental right and that you can’t ban it? Well, I do at least have some understanding of where this desire came from. Democracy is a real hassle. I am reminded yet again of the complexity and fragility of democracy as I suspect President Morsi is as well.
We remain engaged in all that is going on around us, and though I know that some of you are wondering why we are still here, I want to assure you again that the images on CNN belie the fact that life goes on. It is often disrupted, and from far away must look scary. But at this point it is not, only deeply interesting and challenging. Keep in touch.