HFCC Hosts Open Panel Discussion on "Liberating Egypt"

The world was caught off guard on January 25, 2011, when international media outlets anxiously fought their way to follow dissatisfied Egyptian citizens marching through their streets, protesting for a new political reform. It had only been a week earlier that the Tunisian people filled their own city streets, demanding a change from their repressing governmental policies.

In an almost instant chain reaction, the desire for true democratic policy lingered in the north African air, passing through Morocco, Libya and Algeria, and was swept up by the Mid-Eastern countries of Syria, Jordon, Yemen and Bahrain. After weeks of tireless but peaceful demonstrations, the Egyptian people rejoiced in success as their dictating ruler, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down from his tyrannical position, just as the Tunisian leader did.

However, since then, Egypt has yet to put into place a new governmental policy, and its willful influence continues to intensely affect the neighboring Arabic countries. With these critical issues strongly at bay, it was gratifying to see a full house at the Berry Auditorium in HFCC’s Administrative Services and Conference Center (ASCC) as students, professors and intrigued community members gathered for an enlightening discussion, entitled “Liberating Egypt,” on Feb. 23, 2011.

Sponsored by The United States Institute of Peace and HFCC’s Arab Cultural Studies Program, the event presented a panel of four elite speakers, three of which were Ph.D. professors from HFCC, to speak compassionately on the current political events taking place in Egypt and the effected Middle Eastern countries.

Director of HFCC’s Arab Cultural Studies Program, Dr. Michael Daher, introduced his fellow panel members, and he explained the discussion to be “a consequence of an intensely moving appeal” written by speaker Dr. Talast Pasha on January 30, who “called on his American colleagues to support the protestors for democracy assembled in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.” Dr. Daher’s use of Thomas Jefferson’s quote “resistance to tyrants is obedience to God” worked as a significant introduction to aspects influencing the contagious protests in the Arab world.

It was then that Dr. Pasha, Chair of HFCC’s Arabic Department, began by passionately delivering the “micro and macro level” reasons why these protests suddenly occurred in Egypt. Among the micro reasons at fault for the uprising were 30 years of dictatorship, the rule of Mubarak’s State of Emergency Law, 40 percent of the people being illiterate and living under the poverty line, 90 percent of the people striving to feed their families with an average daily wage of three dollars, the lack of fair elections, a corrupt education system and climbing unemployment rates.

Dr. Pasha stated that we can “safely apply [these micro factors] to all the Arab countries,” as well as the macro level reason for the revolution, which is to “really liberate the people” who know now they “need to get rid of their dictators and their dependency to the West.”

While addressing his disappointment in the U.S. government for continually supporting dictatorship, he related America’s resilience in taking part in the Arab elections to the type of democracy supported by the West; which is one that “comes up with someone whom [the U.S.] likes, but if it comes with the people’s choice, and this choice is against the [U.S.’s] interest” then the U.S. will dislike it because the country will no longer contain a “gatekeeper of their interests in that area.”

Once Dr. Pasha stated his plea for “every free person” to help and support the Egyptian people, the panel discussion further touched on the necessity of true democratic policy for Mid-Eastern countries with Dr. Nabeel Abraham, Director of the Honors Program and Chair of the Anthropology Department at HFCC, who turned his focus on present Libya.

After appropriately condemning the “blood bath” by the Libyan regime, Dr. Abraham suggested that “it would be helpful in this one case for the United States to come out strongly on the side of the people.” However, in support of his theory that “democracy is feared” not only by the Arab tyrants but by the U.S., Dr. Abraham claimed that “our leaders and our economic interests do not call for democracy in those areas because it is easier to deal with thugs, to sign away all sorts of resources and deals, to torture and jail people, and to pull treaties on people.”

In agreement with Dr. Pasha, and after establishing the Egyptian revolution as a world influential movement, Dr. Abraham called for the support of “true democracy,” which occurs “when the will of the people gets heard and the needs of the people get addressed.”

Dr. Jeffrey Helsing, Dean of Curriculum at the Academy of International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace, joined the discussion via Skype. Immensely impressed by the level of peace and sophistication with which the Egyptians succeeded with their protests, he addressed the actual place of the White House during the Egyptian aftermath.

Dr. Helsing proposed that because democracy would entail “changes in government, constitutional reform, and development of political parties,” Egypt is not yet ready for elections to take place. In terms of American action, he stated that “the key for U.S. foreign policy is going to be to let this transformation, this change for Egypt, gestate... to not push anything, to allow the Egyptians to go slowly.” He further claimed that “the worst thing the U.S. could do right now is to push for an outcome.” Instead, “the role of the U.S. is to, if asked, provide resources, and perhaps training, in constitutional writing and judicial reform.”

In response, Dr. Pasha denied the assertion that Egypt is not yet prepared for democracy, and said that statement is used “to monger fear among the west.” He also replied with the applauded statement that “people are born ready for democracy and freedom.”

While several audience members and Dr. Abraham were in agreement with Dr. Pasha’s rebuttal, Dr. Helsing further insisted that immediate political elections would only initiate “a contest for power within The Muslim Brotherhood” and “it makes sense to go slower so that other political parties can emerge in this process…. making for a healthier and more mature democracy.”

To answer HFCC student Nuray Ghalib’s question on why the U.S. is opposed to The Muslim Brotherhood coming into power, especially since they are “for this revolution and actually want to build a new Egypt,” Dr. Helsing blames that opposition on the West’s tendency “to look at Islam and the different Islamic movements all through the same lenses,” leading to “very over-simplified conclusions that organized Islam…is seen as threatening.” He further explained that by “lumping the Arab countries in the same basket,” the U.S. has “hamstrung ourselves by not seeing what makes The Muslim Brotherhood both different, unique and uniquely Egyptian.”

As the panel opened to the audience, the discussion concluded with Dr. Pasha answering questions regarding the charges and prosecution awaiting overthrown leader Hosni Mubarak, and describing the voting process among the Egyptians for a new constitution; both of which, he explained, are a part of the “gradual process” in which Egypt is making its way towards becoming truly liberated.