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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Egyptians require saving from themselves

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

@ Al Habtoor Group, Illustration by Guillermo Munro Colosio

One of the things I despise is wasted potential. It’s bad enough witnessing a friend possessed of God-given personal attributes and opportunities self-destruct, but it’s much worse to watch helplessly as a country I love disintegrates when, in reality, it has everything going for it.

I’m especially disturbed at the direction Egypt is taking when with the proper guidance and utilization of its natural resources it could undergo a life-changing economic and social transformation that would benefit all levels of society.

Egyptians have had their revolution and in a perfect world should be looking forward to a new era of prosperity, political self determination and personal freedom. Everything in the garden should be rosy but it’s not.

On the contrary, a grave situation has developed because the country is virtually leaderless. There is no one in either the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces or the interim government, strong enough or courageous enough to quell the chaos on the street and put the country on a right path. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his cabinet take orders from the Egypt’s real rulers the military, while the military goes out of its way to appease protesters.

As each day passes Egypt’s future is being suffocated by groups with competing interests, striking workers, anti-government protestors and interfaith violence.

People who before the popular uprising were fatalistic when it came to their lot in life and were happy just to find their piece of bread each day not only want more, they want it now. Egypt has long been a pressure cooker and now that the lid is off it may be about to boil over. Those who were once powerless have tasted what people power can do and are using this newfound tool as a weapon with which to beat the interim government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to get what they want.

They have no idea that freedom doesn’t give people the right to torch places of worship, damage foreign embassies, deface state property and battle state security forces; they may believe they are exercising their democratic freedoms whereas, in fact, they are engaging in criminal acts.

The irony is that the thuggish behavior of the few could so easily rob all Egyptians of their hard won freedoms and poison the growing bud of democracy for decades to come. With the population increasingly split between those who trust the military’s leadership and those who accuse the Supreme Council of wanting to retain power for itself, there exists the danger that some foolhardy suicidal types will try to take on the army, eliciting civil war.

To avoid blood in the streets, it’s crucial for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to get a handle on things before they escalate out of control. Now is the time for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi to get tough, to give people red lines that cannot be crossed – and especially to make them aware that all Egyptians must be respected no matter their religious affiliations.

The international community and, in particular, the United States will not stand by if the Coptic minority that makes up around 10 per cent of the population is discriminated against or has justifiable fears for its community’s safety.

There were news reports that the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had told CNN that Washington would intervene to protect the Copts, which the State Department has denied. However, when the US has invaded Iraq and led a military intervention in Libya, both oil-rich Arab countries, this isn’t as farfetched as it might sound. Egypt has oil and gas and its Suez Canal makes it a unique strategic asset that could tempt the US to go in under the pretext of a humanitarianism intervention.

Moreover, it is up to the military in partnership with the interim civilian government to stabilize the economy which according to the Financial Times “is in the mire”. Egypt’s foreign currency reserves have dropped by one third since January 25th and both its share index and tourism industry are negatively impacted following each violent incident.

Allowing a minority of troublemakers to dictate terms is ludicrous. Most Egyptians are fed up with the disturbances; they want to get on with their lives in peace. If there is no one in Egypt ready, able and willing to firmly take the people by the hand then the best solution would be for a trusted strong and stable friendly nation to temporarily intervene to establish stability and security – and institute a fair judicial system based on just laws applicable to all.

I would have loved to be able to share most everyone’s revolutionary zeal; I would have been delighted to join in Egypt’s celebrations with an open heart.

But deep inside I knew there might not be a happy ending which is why I have written several newspaper columns warning of the dangers and obstacles ahead – and urging those in charge to gain control over the Arab world’s largest country which my generation of Arabs regarded as highly as our own mother countries.

I’ll say it one more time. Democracy can wait. The army must take charge to save Egyptians from themselves else once mighty Egypt will turn into an impoverished and lawless banana republic.

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