The Capacity for a New Egypt
There have been countless discussions and analysis' in the last several days regarding the future of Egypt. As I have a rather personal relationship with Egypt, I have paid great attentions to these discussions. Most often, they have focused on the lackluster stance of the United States, the omnipresent power vacuum, and the pivital role of the military in securing the state on behalf of the people or on behalf of Mubarak. Facebook, blogs, and twitter posts have also been quick to point out all the things not being discussed: the role of women in the protests, the socio-economic conditions that led to this uprising, and a discourse on what exactly is the identity of the Muslim Brotherhood within the political landscape. While Al Jezeera has done an excellent job of providing constant coverage, it seems that most American media have spent their time focussing on hypotheticals. Not to simply add another analysis to the already cluttered pool, but there is one startling observation that remains heavily undiscussed: what are the assets in place for a better Egypt?
I'll never forget a couple years ago when I went for a job interview with a non-profit founded and operated by Egypt's former Minister of Culture. He had many impressive credentials, a nice office in a wealthy neighborhood, and project committed to improving relations between Egypt and Sub-saharan Africa. In short, I accepted an agreement to do a lot of work and in the end was left stranded with with a rather bad situation. Ultimately I concluded that the agency was simply a corrupt operation for this guy to siphon funds from the government. The first thing that tipped me off, however, was the fact that this guy had no understanding of the broad scale of non-government organizations situated in Cairo to assist the most vulnerable populations and facilitate capacity building.
A quick google search alone will show one the variety of NGOs that have been long established in Egypt. Notable agencies include The Egyptian Center of Human Rights, the NGO Support Center, Caritas, and St. Andrews Refugee Services. Egypt is likewise full of Universities training engineers, scholars, researchers, and technicians at places such as Cairo University, Ain Shams University, American University in Cairo, and the The Future School. While there certainly tens of millions of Egyptians without adequate access to education or viable livelihood options, there are also millions of Egyptians who are talented, business savvy individuals who have sought opportunities for self advancement their whole lives.
I'm not going to pretend to know what will happen to Egypt - but the possibility is part of the excitement. Whereas in the past extremist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood were the only viable alternative to Mubarak's government, there is now the means for many other players to enter the field. In a country that restricted the movement and access to services of its own people, there is now the possibility that a new generation of Egyptians could engage ladders for social mobility. In contrast to living beneath a 30 year suspended constitution on the grounds of a "State Emergency," the people may express their opinions in newspapers and media outlets - including the internet - without fear of the police taking them away in the middle of the night.
In contrast to news reports, the people I personally know in Cairo right now explain that the protests have remained generally peaceful. That many citizens have been actively removing trash from Tahir square and other parts of the city to show this is no longer the downtrodden Egypt of Mubarak. That the crowds are overwhelmingly shouting slogans of universalism to overcome perceived hostilities between Christians and Muslims or rich and poor.
The struggle for Egypt will remain for sometime. But I do not perceive this struggle to be frightening, rather it is simply an honest expression of its people, as founded by necessity. And hopefully, soon, when the country is able to pass over the present precipice of tensions and protest, and move toward resolution in the form of a new government, there will be some recognition of an easily over-looked, yet pre-existing infrastructure. An infrastructure of longstanding mosques, churches, business owners, academics and non-profits all equally committed to a better Egypt. This commitment is not new, it has always been there, but like a plant bursting through the soil to see the sun for the first time, this commitment has the space to live and grow.