Presentation Focuses on Turmoil in Egypt

Conditions that sparked revolutions across the Middle East in recent years vary from one country to another, scholar Ann Lesch explained during a presentation Nov. 3 that focused on turmoil in Egypt.

By the time Egyptians revolted in 2011, they had been living under authoritarian rule since 1952, said Lesch, professor and associate provost at the American University in Cairo and former faculty member of Villanova University.

When Hosni Mubarek assumed power 30 years ago, the public hoped for freer elections, but the president exerted tremendous controls that allowed election rigging, Lesch said.  The public could not assemble freely, and human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations were subject to oversight and restrictions from the ruling party.

Egypt’s diverse economy, which once drew power from agriculture, oil and natural gas and tourism, began to decline in the late 1990s.  Health care and schools were privatized, and the government stopped providing housing programs.

“The situation was ripe for a revolution of the poor,” Lesch said, adding that the dismantling of labor laws sparked a mobilization of workers, who took part in illegal but effective strikes.

When the ruling party won 97 percent of the seats in the 2010 elections, the Egyptian public was outraged and drew inspiration from the revolution in Tunisia, Lesch said.

“They sensed they could do something, too” she added.

The military sided with the public and turned on Mubarek in 2011, running the country for 18 months.  While the arrangement initially gave the public hope, Lesch said, Egyptians began sensing that their demands were not being met. The Muslim Brotherhood gained a majority of seats in the 2012 elections.

But the Muslim Brotherhood and the newly elected President Mohamed Morsi quickly alienated many in the newly mobilized nation by adopting a constitution viewed as starkly Islamicist.

By June of 2013, ongoing economic woes and dissatisfaction with Morsi’s vow to train Syrian jihadists sparked public protests that aimed to restore the goals of the 2011 revolution, Lesch explained.

Political reconciliation seems out of reach, Lesch said, citing widespread alienation from the Muslim Brotherhood and an overly aggressive military that removed Morsi from office and keeps the aspirations of Mubarek supporters alive.

Lesch’s visit was organized by the meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns and Religious Education committees.

Submitted by Sarah Greenblatt

 

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