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April 4, 2018

Egypt, 2003 to 2018 ... and beyond

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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I became seriously involved in Egyptian politics in 2003 when I was invited to address an international conference in Cairo about the imminent American invasion of Iraq.

The keynote speaker was ex-US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who argued eloquently against the invasion and also exposed American and British lies about Iraq’s alleged chemical weapons.

I was delighted to learn that Clark and I were staying in the same Cairo hotel and was grateful for long mealtime discussions with him about world politics, religion, Egypt, and the Middle East.

It was a turning point in my life.

During the same conference I also met a diverse spectrum of international speakers, as well as representatives of Egyptian opposition parties ranging from the far right to far left.

Since I have long been professionally involved in politics – one of several dictionary definitions for “politician” – I can honestly claim to be one, even though I have never run for a government office.

But I served the Canadian Egyptian, Arab and Muslim communities for many decades. In addition to being founding President (now retired) of the Canadian Islamic Congress, I have advocated for peace with justice around the world, and for social justice in Canada.

In the course of my career I have engaged with many MPs, cabinet ministers, senators and prime ministers, and have always encouraged young Canadians, especially Muslims, to become more involved in politics.

During two Canadian federal elections I ranked candidates based on their track records, their policy positions, and the platforms of their political parties concerning a number of key issues. It was the first time such rankings had been done by an independent and impartial source.

On behalf of Canadian Muslims, I also organized all-candidates meetings for those running to lead their parties.

Not surprisingly, my political activism drew both support and opposition. The Canadian Jewish Congress, and even groups from within the Canadian Muslim community, targeted me. I was also the victim of vicious media smear campaigns, one of which lobbied my university employer (unsuccessfully) to fire me.

So, in 2003 I already knew the risks very well. I thought to myself, “If you get involved in Egyptian politics, you will face the same, and likely even worse; you would be listed by the Egyptian National Security Authority. Is it worth it?”

When I voiced “Is it worth it?” aloud to Ramsey Clark, his answer was brief and inspiring. He replied simply, “Yes, Mohamed.”

So, for the past 15 years I have diligently studied and written about Egypt’s economic and political progress – or lack of it.

After participating in the January 25, 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square, I wrote a book with eyewitness videos of the event.

A year later, I organized a conference on Egypt’s long-neglected region of Sinai at Cairo University, followed by a field trip to meet its people.

The outcome was a strong list of recommendations that we raised with the Prime Minister of the time. I then followed up and was delighted that by Presidential decree, the National Authority for The Development of Sinai was established.

During the presidential election of 2012, I met a number of top candidates, including those backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and wrote a white paper report for the next President on achieving both economic progress and social justice. I disseminated that paper through the media and gave talks about it at universities and other public gatherings.

I was greatly disappointed when in November 2012, just five months after being elected, President Mohamed Morsi transformed his democratic position into a dictatorship.

I had long known that Morsi’s loyalty to the secretive Muslim Brotherhood religious group was greater than to his own country; I witnessed his actions to appease the US and Israel ahead of the needs of his people. I also witnessed his hatred for Egyptian Coptic Christians and Shia Muslims.

During that dark time, I feared that my beloved birth country would slip into the black hole of civil war, as happened in Syria, Libya and Yemen.

The editor of an Egyptian newspaper that published my weekly editorials told me to back off on criticizing Morsi, or they would have to stop running my articles.

I was losing hope in Egypt’s future.

How could the country thrive under the rule of a fascist religious dictatorship that was planning to stay in power for decades, just as in Gaza, Sudan and Turkey?

The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government came to power through free and democratic elections but consolidated its power by branding all opponents and critics “infidels.”

Unfortunately, this repressive regime also garnered strong American support from the Obama administration.

But in 2013 a miracle happened.

Another popular uprising took place, because citizens had lost patience with the Muslim Brotherhood; and that saved the country from a disastrous civil war.

The army, which had supported the 2011 uprising against former military strongman Hosni Mubarak, now joined the people again in demonstrating that Egypt was fed up with the MB and Morsi.

My hope slowly began to return.

The US tried to isolate Egypt but failed. But the Brotherhood’s international members and those of Turkey, Gaza, Sudan and Qatar mounted a collective violent resistance.

Within Egypt the MB resorted to terrorism, killing Christians and Muslims alike, including civilians, military personnel, men, women and children.

The country was almost bankrupt. Income from tourism had all but vanished. Fearing for their own and their children’s safety, ordinary Egyptians could not leave their homes.

The MB also resorted to blackmail, stating - on public record - that they would stop the killing campaign if Morsi was returned to power. Egyptians defiantly and overwhelmingly rejected the idea.

In 2014, after a year of transition, a new presidential election was held between experienced veteran Hamdin Sabahy and a little-known and politically untested ex-army general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Sisi won and I have followed his speeches and actions during that first term of 2014-2018, writing about his achievements as well as his shortcomings.

I was especially interested in how he would handle high-profile issues including: constitutional reform, democracy, human rights, law and order, corruption, terrorism, Arab and African relations, international relations, education, healthcare, water management, infrastructure, economic development and social justice.

I am pleased to report that Sisi did well on all of the daunting list above, despite being externally challenged by hate campaigns from terrorist-supporting states such as Qatar and Turkey.

As to internal challenges, Egypt’s 100 million people (increasing by two million annually) suffer from bad health, poor nutrition, over-consumption, and are easily swayed by weak political parties that exploit their aspirations and frustrations.

Although I have never met Sisi face-to-face, I know a number of individuals who have and they all agree that he is a person of strong character; truthful, sincere and a good listener – all essential attributes for a successful and effective politician.

In March, Sisi was re-elected for a second term, 2018-2022.

And this time, while following his activities, I hope I’ll finally get to meet him and say:

“Thank you, Mr. President. You’ve done well for your country. Please do more if you can, but do not sacrifice your health or your family to the all-consuming and never-ending demands of political life. God bless you. God bless Egypt.”

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