As Egyptians went to the polls this week to vote on a constitutional referendum, Western media organizations were busy interviewing Western analysts about Western concerns for Egypt’s future. In stark contrast to that grim analysis provided by people who don’t live in Egypt, the mood on the streets and at the polling stations here was remarkably upbeat. People were celebrating in the streets as they went to the polls to cast their vote.
I have been on the ground here since July 3rd, the day Mohamed Morsi was removed from power by a massive democratic revolt, even larger than the movement that removed Mubarak from power. From the celebrations in Tahrir Square, to standing in the burned-out shells of Coptic churches up and down the Nile, I’ve witnessed first-hand the highs and lows since that time. The reality on the ground in Egypt is completely different than what you will read in the Washington Post or the New York Times. The western media is not representing the truth of the situation here in Egypt, but seem to be pandering to an anti-democratic and politically incompetent group that has been openly rejected by the majority of the Egyptian people. The realization that Egyptians are fighting the war on terrorism – daily – in their own backyards does not seem to register or resonate with the Western media; they seem to be too concerned about promoting “democracy” than the value of human lives in a nation gripped by Islamist violence.
The same pundits that are criticizing Egypt’s democratic roadmap are the very same people who I imagine will criticize the will of the Egyptian people for summoning General el-Sisi to run for President. The question is: are they really promoting democracy? If they are, it would make sense that they should fully support the will of the Egyptian people as it has been expressed by peaceful marches and ballots. Democracy requires governance by and for the people, not decided once, but over and over. Democracy allows for the removal of an unjust leader through due process; as our founding fathers recognized, when a ruler abuses his power, it is a nation’s duty to depose him and restore a just order. Democracy hinges on the willingness of men and women to resist movements and ideologies that have no respect for limited government, but who choose to embrace any tactic that will bring them to the top. What made George Washington remarkable – and what shocked European monarchs – was that he stepped down from power when he could have easily stayed president for life.
The Washington Post has parroted claims that Egypt’s military regime is “…installing an autocracy more repressive than any the country has known for decades” and that “citizens are being summoned to the polls to vote on a new constitution”. The image that the Western media is disseminating on the Egyptian military is completely unfounded and could not be farther from the truth. I have witnessed first-hand the love and admiration that the Egyptian people have for their military. There is a special bond between the people and the military here in Egypt; it is a very unique relationship. The people trust the military and praise them for protecting them against the violence of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In interviews I conducted this week at numerous polling stations, two dominant messages were expressed by the voters: hope at beginning to put Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood behind them; and bewilderment at the obtuseness of the Obama administration’s failure to recognize and adapt to the tectonic shifts that were occurring in Egypt and the broader Middle East.
Another recurring theme was displeasure with the Western media for their one-sided coverage of events. This was reinforced this week, as there were numerous attempts by Muslim Brotherhood supporters to disrupt voting and intimidate voters at the polls. A bomb blast at a Giza courthouse as voting was set to begin on Tuesday, and masked gunmen opening fire on churches in Fayoum and Sohag were conspicuously absent from much of the Western media reporting this week. And I stood in a burned-out police station in Heliopolis just hours after it had been torched during a Muslim Brotherhood “protest”. That, too, eluded the notice of Western reporters.
Here are some of the comments taken from my interviews with Egyptian voters this week to get a sense of the mood:
Dr. Noha Bakr, college professor
“Due to the high turn out on the constitution referendum, it took me three hours to be able to cast my vote. I was very happy to stand and witness how everyone was standing full of hope and confidence in the future. Everyone around made me feel we are moving forward to a better Egypt, unlike the 2012 constitution referendum where many felt it was institutionalizing an Islamic Empire on the Expense of our Egyptian Identity”
Samira Habashy, 42 yrs old
“One million yeses, Sisi is our President from now. Next 15th January we are going to be happy as the results of today. With our spirit and our life we are going to say yes for Sisi.”
Khaled Khalil, 50 yrs old
“Today means the interpretation of 30 June. I read the Constitution and made sure to read it and I agree 95% with it…the future is not easy, we still have challenges…people must understand there are differences between the U.S., Europe and Egypt in democracy. We have to take step by step to build our democracy.”
Essam Moustafa Mahran, 43 yrs old
“This is the first step in the road map for Egypt. The Egyptian nation has chosen a new life with most of the Christian and Muslim community with unity…If General Sisi will go for the President election, I will have the honor to be the first one to give my voice for his vote.”
Tahany Ahmed Mohamed 69 yr old lady, former lawyer
“Very happy, a happy day. We destroyed terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama is not good, we love Americans, but we are against the Obama Administration. The Egyptian American relations forever.”
Nagwa Hassain, 75 yr old lady
“This is considered no less than the biggest festival of occasions in the Islamic religion, such as the sacrifice of feast or Ifthar feast…Obama is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood since day one. I thought and believed Obama was the symbol of democracy, but after what he has done, I am very disappointed and can’t rely on him anymore”.
Safinaz Abd Almageed, 76yr old lady
“I love Egypt. The future will be good…America, I am sorry to say, that it is against terrorism but She [America] helped terrorism in Egypt, and for that, all Arabs do not love the American Administration. They never do what they have promised or said, but we love the American people.”
Manwa Yehia, mother 38 yrs old
“It is a big day for all the Egyptian people. Voting for our country and the future of our children. I need a good future for my son…I don’t know why Obama is supporting terrorism and why he wants to destroy Egypt…Do you, the American people, support your President and his regime? We know the American people are kind people. We here are certain that the American people don’t approve of what Obama is doing”.
Merna Nadra, 21 yrs old
“Egypt will be in safe hands. We love the military and we trust them. They stand with the Egyptians and they protect Egypt. We were in danger with the Muslim Brotherhood…America should understand the Egyptian people and their desire to be free. I invite the American people to come to Egypt and see we are not a terrorist state. The Muslim Brotherhood are the terrorists.”
With the constitutional referendum overwhelmingly passed – with millions more voting than during the Islamist referendum in December 2012 – the interim government will now proceed with presidential and parliamentary elections. As the third anniversary of the January 25th Revolution approaches, all Egyptians need to work to put the past behind them and embrace the future ahead without consideration of the scorn of Western governments and media. As was true for our own War for Independence and subsequent history, the process is not perfect. But I saw this week that many Egyptians are trying their best, and as longtime allies, and as a democracy with our own shortcomings, we should support them in their aspirations to become a more free and more secure country.