Turning Stones - George McKale


Egypt in turmoil

Whenever I write about Egypt, I always feel compelled to remind readers that the City of Sonoma has a sister-city relationship with the southern city of Aswan. That is why I write about it. I am also the chair of the Sonoma-Aswan committee and have been very active in fostering this relationship over the past three years.  During this time period I have visited Egypt four times, sharing my Saharan escapades and personal perspectives with readers.

Egyptians have found themselves in the thick of their second revolution in two years. Last March I predicted this day would come.  As my son Matthew and I traveled south from Cairo to Aswan, we took the time to talk to cab drivers, laborers, street merchants, restaurateurs and camel owners. More than any other visit, the mounting tensions born from chaos, poverty and differences in religious ideology, led those that we talked to, to freely express their misgivings about the current administration.

My first trip to Egypt was in October of 2010.  Hosni Mubarak was the President.  While trying to make sense of the chaos all around me, I did not perceive during this trip, what the near future would bring to Egypt. With the advent of the Arab Spring, a term used by media to describe civil uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Morocco, within a few months of my first visit, Mubarak was ousted as Egypt’s long time President.

My next excursion to Egypt took place while Egypt was in an apparent limbo.  They were preparing for democratic elections for the first time in their 5,000 year history. There was an explicit sense of hope. I experienced that same sense of hope in June of 2012, when Bill Boerum, my 10-year old son Andrew and I, visited Egypt during the Presidential elections.  The media warned of possible violence, but when the people elected Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, over Ahmed Shafik, a relic of the Mubarak administration, there was little to no violence in the country.

This time around there was an overwhelming feeling of hope.  Looking at the Cairo train station, which resembled a war zone with heaps of concrete, rubble and garbage, one might imagine the day it would be rehabilitated.  One might imagine every city along the Nile with new roads and bridges.  One might imagine throngs of tourists once again winding their way to some of the greatest monuments the world has ever seen.

Last March, Bill Boerum, my 14 year old son Matthew and I, once again journeyed to Aswan.  The atmosphere was different than my three previous excursions.  In my April 4, 2013 column I wrote “this last trip I felt something different.  I came away with the impression that Egypt is still in the middle of a revolution.  I fear that their battles for a brighter future are far from over.”

Those sentiments came true this last week. June 30 marked the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency and the people of Egypt once again filled Tahrir Square to protest Morsi’s lack of accomplishments. The real problem with Morsi’s presidency is far from simple. His affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood has sparked controversy. The brotherhood’s goals are to instill the Qur’an as the sole reference point for the ordering of Muslim families, individuals and communities. While many Egyptians are Muslim, many believe in a separation of church and state.

While it is difficult for Americans to comprehend the complex relationships between culture, religion and politics, Egypt finds itself on the cuff of yet another new era. Though Morsi is still in power as of this writing, at least one Face book friend stated “In two years, we Egyptians toppled two regimes, one of the worst dictatorships and the other a theocratic fascist.”

Tamarod, a grassroots organization behind the recent protests, gave Morsi an ultimatum, resign or face a civil disobedience campaign.  To make matters more complicated, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, leader of Egypt’s armed forces, stated if the unrest continued, Egypt’s armies would intervene. Interesting news to President Morsi, as theoretically, he has the power to fire al-Sisi.

If it’s one thing I have learned about Egyptians, they will survive. Of course, even if Tamarod’s dreams come true, the path to stability is a long one. Within a few short days, the world will soon find out if Egypt’s armed forces will intervene.  In the meantime, we shall wait for the stability the country deserves and I personally look forward to the day tourists once again flock to visit Egypt’s iconic treasures.

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