Thursday, May 30, 2024

Egyptians, far away from the revolution

Desire for democracy at core of revolt in Egypt

From the Detroit News


Bloomfield Hills They want what America offers. And now their countrymen want it, too. Five Egyptian pro squash players are in Metro Detroit playing in the Motor City Open, but their hearts are back home with their countrymen and the Egyptian uprising.

“The people are fed up,” says 22-year-old Tarek Momen as he keeps a close eye on CNN between matches at the Birmingham Athletic Club.

“This uprising is being led by the educated classes,” he said. “We need to get voting rights. Mubarak’s government held an election in December and got 99 percent of the vote. It’s a joke.”

A graduate of the prestigious American University in Cairo with a degree in electrical engineering, Momen’s English is flawless. An ambassador to the world for Egypt, he says that the Egyptian Revolution is a true populist revolt. Fed by Facebook and Twitter, the revolution has no clear leader but has exploded spontaneously since an uprising in nearby Tunisia upended that corrupt government.

Momen is not politically involved, but says his peers in Cairo are driving this revolution.

He nods at the similarities of citizens like the tea partiers in the United States taking to the streets to reclaim their government. But he points to an important difference in Egypt: under one-party Mubarak rule, the streets have no allies in government. In Washington, the tea partiers have natural allies in the Republican Party.

Egypt is a country of crony pols and crony capitalists where the few hold power against the will of the majority.

“Here in the U.S., you have the right to vote. In Egypt, you have no real right to vote,” says Magdy Talaat, an Egyptian-born U.S. businessman in Lake Orion who has befriended the Egyptian players here.

Talaat, a U.S. citizen since 1982, returns to Cairo every year. He says it’s a metropolis like New York but the mood changes when it comes to politics. “You don’t talk politics,” he says. “You know that once you cross that line, the police will come and get you.”

“Most Egyptian people have admiration for America. But they are against U.S. government policy toward Egypt because it supports dictatorship,” Talaat said. “We need regime change. The best thing for Egypt is for Mubarak to leave the country.”

Both he and Momen dismiss concerns that the extremist, Iranian-backed Muslim Brotherhood is a threat to take power in Egypt.

“Obama should support democratic change,” says Talaat, pointing out dictatorship is a breeding ground for extremists that will ultimately work against U.S. interests. “The U.S. is still a leader that has influence more than anyone can believe.”

As Momen and his mates watch CNN just a few feet from the squash courts, they worry about their families but are optimistic that this is the Egyptian flowering of the universal human desire: democracy.

Henry Payne is The Detroit News cartoonist and editor of E-mail comments to [email protected].

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