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April 27, 2014

Why Egypt Deserves Canadian Help

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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In the ongoing war against terrorism, it has been rightly observed that Canada could help Egypt by offering advanced technical skills and specialized equipment.

Additionally, we could promote hopes for future stability by listing the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as a terrorist organization, just as was done with Hamas (the Palestinian branch of the MB) and the Tamil Tigers, even though none of these organizations have posed direct threats to our nation.

The MB is now formally listed as a terrorist organization by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania; and although not formally banned, it has also been effectively denounced by the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain. All of these countries (and more) recognize that the MB actively supports, encourages, or affiliates itself with terror organizations. In the West, one MB affiliate group has been banned by the U.S. and Britain is also considering similar actions.

Using violence to advance its political agenda is not new to the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1947 they assassinated Egyptian Prime Minister Al Noqurashi – the “crime” that cost this leader his life was that he de-registered the MB as an official organization. Since then, and to this day, it has used violence to advance its political power.

Over the past 10 months alone, terrorists in Egypt have killed some 500 police officers, a similar number of military personnel, and thousands of innocent Muslim and Christian civilians, including children. Also among the dead are nearly two-dozen Korean tourists. The death toll rises every week and there are continued attempts to kill many government officials, such as Egypt’s Minister of the Interior. Along with horrific human losses and ongoing assassination threats, the MB and its affiliates have burned some 60 churches and destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of buildings, including universities.

But there is a great deal more we can and should do at this critical juncture in Egyptian affairs.

On the economic, social and educational fronts Canada also has much to offer – especially as Egyptians have historically trusted this nation more than any other developed country, including the United States, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, even China. From long experience, Egyptians firmly believe that Canada’s help would be more genuine and mutually beneficial than aid from any other international source.

Drawing on my experience of nearly half a century as a senior academic in creating Canadian skills-based wealth in telecommunications, and also as a political activist in both countries, I offer here some leading examples of how Canada can help my birth country of Egypt in meaningful and sustainable ways.

The Egyptian economy could benefit greatly from a vast Canadian investment in solar power installations to meet its ever-increasing demands for renewable energy. In social development, Canada can share with Egypt its world renowned model of publically-supported national health care. In education, Canadian state-supported universities can expand their current partnerships with Egyptian academic and polytechnic institutions, both public and private.

Tourism is another area which holds great potential for further development. When Western travelers, especially Canadians, visit the iconic historical and cultural sites of Egypt they are also demonstrating international solidarity with its people in their struggle against terrorism. According to religious scholars, it was here in Egypt where God spoke to Moses; and it is here where some of the world’s oldest synagogues, churches and mosques are faithfully preserved and kept open to worshipers.

Egypt boasts one of the world’s most ancient advanced civilizations, one that left its legacy in spectacular architecture, such as the famous pyramids and the columned wonders of Luxor, as well as in the opulent graves of its mummified leaders and rulers. Having visited more than 50 countries, I can affirm with confidence that no other place on the planet can offer visitors such a rich spectrum of both ancient and modern wonders to compare with the arts, culture and monuments of Egypt.

But how can we place all this country’s magnificent historic assets against the backdrop of its current struggle toward democracy?

Faced with an overwhelming amount of disinformation and misinformation around recent unrest, Canadians are not alone in experiencing confusion and uncertainty over the future of Egypt. However, if more effort were made to understand how the present situation emerged, the effect on long-term peace and stability would be substantial.

Too few of us know, for example, that Egypt now has an inclusive and progressive constitution that was approved by more than 90% of the country’s registered voters, replacing the regressive Islamist constitution of last year. For the first time, Egypt’s large Christian minority does not feel marginalized.

On May 26, Egyptians will go to the polls to elect a new president, hoping it will be a free and fair election. It will be monitored by international observers: Canadians should be among those observers. Egyptian Canadians will vote in a mid-May advance poll.

The current presidential campaign is between longtime leftist politician Hamden Sabahi and Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi (ret), an Egyptian national hero.

I met Sabahi in Cairo when he was running in the 2012 presidential election; he came third in the first round.

Although I have not yet met Al-Sisi (currently the front-runner), I have met three of his top aides: Dr. Abdul Gilel Moustafa, a world renowned heart surgeon; Dr. Moustafa Higazy, a young specialist in strategic planning; and the well-known film director Khalid Youssef. All three are respected liberal activists who demonstrated skilled leadership during the popular uprisings of January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2013 – the first against secular dictator Hosni Mubarak, the second against Islamist dictator Mohamed Morsi.

Al-Sisi identified with the estimated 30 million Egyptians who took to the streets in June 2012 to expel Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. They feared a number of tragic outcomes if the Islamist regime continued: Egypt would be driven to the point of failed statehood, as happened under Islamist governments in Somalia and Libya; a long-term civil war would result, as happened in Syria; the country would collapse into division as in Sudan, or Gaza and the West Bank; continuous civil turmoil would turn Egypt into another Iraq; or the country would devolve into an isolated theocracy as in Iran.

Although I believe Sabahi is a capable politician, Al-Sisi is the only person who can galvanize Egyptians’ hopeful enthusiasm, which after June 30 included not only Muslims but also Christians. This new optimism for democracy has also crossed many other social and cultural boundaries, embracing men and women, young and old, rich and poor, in a collective effort to bring stability and security to the nation and its citizens.

Al-Sisi has emphasized that democratic success can only be maintained through a vast injection of economic development and strong social justice. “I cannot make miracles,” he cautioned. “The people and the leader must work jointly, so that our hopes can be attained…”

Al-Sisi is not known for long speeches. But his few words have proven inspiring to millions of Egyptians, not unlike those of one of other great leaders.

During the 1930s Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt said: “This nation asks for action, and action now. We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take, but we must give as well.”

Similarly, in 1940 Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the British people with the memorable phrase: “I have nothing … but sweat, blood and tears.” And during the mid-1950s, American President Dwight D. Eisenhower inspired his people to overcome the severe post-war economic crisis by urging them; “work to become.”

Personally, I share the optimism of millions of other Egyptians about the future of my birth country and about the potential of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s leadership to take Egypt strongly onto the road of democracy, economic development and social justice.

But it will be a tough road and Egypt deserves Canada’s help.

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor emeritus of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo. He can be reached at elmasry@uwaterloo.ca

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