Private and public reflections on the Egyptian situation

News Release Date: 

Editorial by Ohio State Marion Professor of Economics, Hassan Aly
Published in the 8-23-2013 edition of The Marion Star

As soon as I finished teaching my summer courses at The Ohio State University at Marion in the first week of August, I started preparing my suitcase to travel to Egypt.

All of my close friends indicated, sarcastically, that I was going in the wrong direction. They pointed out that the best and the brightest are leaving Egypt these days in droves due to the dire political and economic situation.

My main reasons, however, were chiefly family. My mother is getting to that age where my presence next to her (as the eldest son) is rather essential. Not only to take care of her health and other needs financially or logistically, but to provide her the moral support and give her the sense of security and safety that she stated to my siblings she feels with me around after the passing away of my father almost 20 years ago. I am so close to my mother, and yes, I did bring her to live with me in the states many times before. However, she always opted to go back to Egypt after a three- to six-month stay in Ohio. The last time, she made it clear to me that she cannot stay in the United States more than six months, otherwise she will lose her ability to speak.

Another reason for me to be in Egypt at this time is the turmoil engulfing the country. Let me explain. It just happened that I witnessed the revolution of Jan. 25, 2011, and the removal of a longtime dictator (Mubarak) when I visited Egypt in 2011. I realized afterward that I was rather fortunate to live these moments on the ground and participate in the action. It also helped me professionally, as I just finished submitting an article on “the determinates of the Arab Awakening” to an economic journal. Now, as the situation in Egypt is becoming deeply heated, I felt that this is another historical moment and professional experience I should not miss.

However, the difference between the two periods could not be more stark. I remember writing, also to The Marion Star readers, at that time (February 2011) about how proud I am with what the regular Egyptians did. Of course, people taking to the streets and risking their lives as a price for their liberty and freedom does deserve admiration.

But I admired more the sense of unity, patriotism, cooperation and camaraderie that existed among the Egyptians at that time. How people formed thousands of “community watch” groups all over the country to defend their neighborhood and to protect their properties, to manage traffic, and to protect churches and museums in light of total retrieval and absence of the police forces. How medical doctors opened their clinics for free to treat the injured and assist the sick when banks were closed and people had no access to cash. So did bakery owners and vegetable and fruit sellers who helped the cashless and the strapped with only a promise to repay one day!

What I found this time around is rather a very different picture altogether. The country is really far from being unified. Divisions and disputes even inside the same family — among fathers and sons or brothers and sisters —stemming from different political views or beliefs are more than common. Political disputes are no longer tolerated as differing views or opinions. Polarization and radicalization are rampant. George Bush’es motto “If you are not with me, you are against me” is starting to take hold, propagated by talk show hosts and now reaching the regular folks in the streets. Insulting and abusing certain groups of people in the streets due to the way they dress (religious attire) or the way they grow their beards is becoming acceptable. Weekly, and currently daily, marches, riots and demonstrations claiming to be peaceful, but soon turning into violence (whether because they provoked the security forces or otherwise) are also becoming facts of life. In the end, senseless killing of Egyptians by Egyptians is starting to become a common occurrence (very un-Egyptian traits).

What happened? And how have the mostly bloodless-white-revolutions been transformed into this chaotic and catastrophic transitional situation? That is what I will attempt to explain in my next piece.

Hassan Aly is a professor of economics at The Ohio State University at Marion.