Inside Egypt

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The eyes of the world have been on Egypt this year as the 30-year stability of the Mubarak regime collapsed in the wake of popular protests that have since echoed throughout the Arab world (and been mischaracterized in the now-ubiquitous phrase, “Arab Spring”).

Speculation and analysis abound about the future of our relations with Egypt, the ascendancy there of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the threat of impending war with Israel. There is no shortage of pundits on the outside looking in, but for a perspective from the eye of the storm, so to speak, I reached out to interview my courageous friend Cynthia Farahat in Cairo.

Cynthia is a young political activist, dissident, and Coptic Christian – a combination that paints a bright red target on one’s back in Egypt. Her recent article in the Middle East Quarterly and an interview with Bill Whittle of PJTV have begun to earn her recognition as an expert political analyst.

Mark Tapson: Let’s begin by talking about your politics and your work.

Cynthia Farahat: My political philosophy is somewhere between American Conservatism and Objectivism, and I am very fond of and inspired by the American Tea Party movement. I have learned so much from the Tea Parties all the way out here in Cairo.

My political activism began after 9/11, for two reasons: first, I was heartbroken by the shocking evil and cowardice of the attacks on the unsuspecting, peaceful people in the Twin Towers. Second, I was compelled by the fact that those people were paying tax dollars to fund the so-called “moderate” Mubarak dictatorship, whose state-sponsored media celebrated 9/11 and the death of American “infidels.” The virtue of empathy is severely lacking in Arab regimes. We don’t even have a word for “empathy” in Arabic.

I saw that I would be compliant with their crimes if I stayed silent. My main goal is to collaborate with strong secular civil groups against theocratic forces, because I have seen their ideas fly into your buildings. So I met with like-minded people and co-founded the Egyptian Liberal Party, the first political party in Egypt that openly calls for secularism and capitalism. Our party was banned by a court order at the same time that the Mubarak regime opened up the parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood. I always believed the Brotherhood was part of the Mubarak regime, and that he couldn’t have functioned without it.

MT: When the so-called “Arab Spring” kicked off in Egypt, I know you were very optimistic and excited about the possibilities for liberal democracy in Egypt. Has your perspective changed any since then?

CF: My optimism is still strong, but it’s not merely a hopeful delusion. I used to believe that if someone is optimistic about Arab or Egyptian politics there must be something wrong with them. I still believe this regarding the government because the system has not changed: almost half the Egyptian workforce works for the government. Hardly anything can change in the presence of such a massive bureaucracy.

My optimism stems from my conclusion after observing the Egyptian people during the protests, and up until now. For the first time in six decades Egyptian masses started demanding their rights, and demanding democracy and a peaceful transition of power, which is a major step against Islamic fundamentalism.

I saw a remarkable and unexpected display of civility, tolerance, and well-articulated demands from unorganized Egyptian protesters. The Egypt I lived in all my life under Mubarak was certainly not the Egypt I saw in Tahrir Square, apart from the regime thugs that attacked protesters and journalists. Rejecting Mubarak brought out the best in Egypt.

Demanding democracy in an Islamic constitutional theocracy is in fact a secular demand, an implicit recognition that Egyptian masses reject the concept of khilāfa, the caliphate, and that the reference for governance should be the people and not Sharia Law. This frightens other Arab dictators and the Muslim Brotherhood, who started having serious organizational problems because the massive wave of demands for democracy has impacted their internal structure.

Having said that, I’m still very realistic in my expectations. It certainly is a long process but this is the first step. Egyptians have been enslaved and silenced under an Islamic socialist military dictatorship for 60 years. Free speech is almost always severely punished by harassment, threats, torture, imprisonment or death. Egyptians have been isolated, intimidated and brainwashed into perceiving a distorted version of reality and the outside world. It would be utopian and unreal to expect them now to the say all the things we want to hear. But that certainly is the first step, and there is no going back.

MT: Middle East analysts such as Barry Rubin believe “Egypt is the New Iran,” that just as “Jimmy Carter’s incompetence helped give us Islamist Iran, Barack Obama’s incompetence and ideology helped give us radical (perhaps Islamist) Egypt.” Do you think that’s a legitimate comparison, that Egypt is rapidly and inevitably becoming a fundamentalist Islamic state openly hostile to America and Israel?

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  • WildJew

    Cynthia's heart seems to be in the right place and I wish her well but I remain sceptical. Muslim Brotherhood took seats in the parliament when former President Bush was pushing regimes to allow open elections. This was before Palestinians elected Hamas as their representatives. Then the president backed off.; wisely. Cynthia compares Tahir Square to the tea party movement in the US. I cannot imagine anything like the rape of CBS reporter Laura Logan happening at a tea party rally with the participants screaming, "Jew, Jew!" Pew researchers found (for example) that 84 percent of Egyptians favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion. When asked whether suicide bombing can ever be justified, 54 percent said yes (although most believe such occasions are "rare.") It seems to me there is reason for caution.

    • MarkTapson

      Good comment, WildJew. As you might be able to glean from my questions, I remain similarly skeptical, but I thought it was valuable and interesting to get the perspective of one of the young, secular, pro-freedom activists who are taking a stand against the Brotherhood. As for the Tea Party comparison, she did say that the civility she saw was apart from the Islamists and Mubarak henchmen. Of course, you're right that there still remains "reason for caution."

  • Cynthia Farahat

    Thank you for your comment WildJew. I very much remain skeptical myself, as nothing changed on a governmental level.
    The Muslim Brotherhood did not get elected to the parliament in 2005, that's a lie Mubarak's regime sold the west to frighten and blackmail them to refrain from the idea of substituting him through democracy, and he obviously did a great job, the truth is they were hired and not elected to get 88 seats in the parliament, I was monitoring the elections and it was forged. As for Lara Logan she was attacked by Mubarak's regime thugs who have systematically attacked other journalists the exact same way for the past 30 years, there are hundreds of accounts of identical attacks on both women and men, including my brother and several of my friends who were attacked the same way while being called Jews by the regime thugs before they were abducted by these people to police stations. Bloggers and journalists including some of my friends were abducted and raped the same way by Mubarak's regime the past few years.

  • WildJew

    Cynthia, your statement, "I was heartbroken by the shocking evil and cowardice of the attacks on the unsuspecting, peaceful people in the Twin Towers… (and) the Mubarak dictatorship, whose state-sponsored media celebrated 9/11 and the death of American “infidels.” I saw that I would be compliant with their crimes if I stayed silent," is very Jewish by the way. Silence in the face of a great evil is never a good idea. That having been said, still I am troubled by the polls showing large numbers of Egyptians want more, not less, Islam. If the state-sponsored media traffics in anti-Jewish and anti-Christian stereotypes and slanders, how significant is the audience in Egypt that believes these lies? We know the Holocaust did not arise out of thin air. Joseph Goebbels found a large, receptive audience in Germany. Additionally, it seems to those of us here in the west, in spite of the harshness of secular-leaning regimes like (former Iraqi strongman) Saddam Hussein's and Hosni Mubarak's, absent a strong hand in these Muslim-dominated countries, there seems to be even more persecution of minorities like yours in Egypt.

  • WildJew

    cont.: As is the case with Israel's "Palestinians," Islam does not look favorably toward non-Muslims who only ask that they accept us as equals. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but even a cursory reading of Islam's holy book gives one the impression, the devout Muslim should extend to non-Muslims (especially Jews) no mercy; no kindness. Here in the U.S. at the moment, we can be more free in our discourse about Islam than you can in Egypt. Thankfully.

  • AntiSharia

    The optimism is a nice thing, but it's misplaced. Egypt is only going to get more radical. The Brotherhood might have benefited from rigged elections in 2005, but let's look at what has happened since the removal of Mubarak. The Egyptian people overwhelmingly approved constitutional changes that guarantee that Egypt will become a Sharia state. Attacks on Copts have surged, and it's very likely that the brotherhood will purge them out of the country, and a religious, and cultural group dating back to the time of the Pharaohs will be driven from their own country, and no one in the west will care.

  • Brenda

    "Mubarak dictatorship, whose state-sponsored media celebrated 9/11 and the death of American “infidels.”
    I disagree that if it wasn't for Mubarak Egyptian media would not have celebrated 9/11. Cynthia, you are a Christian Egyptian, and you know that everywhere in the Muslim world, including some Muslims in America and Europe, did celebrate 9/11. Mubarak had nothing to do with Muslims celebrating 9/11.

  • Brenda

    You said: "I believe the Egyptian regime would be only as radical as the world allows it to be." No Cynthia, the world is not responsible for the radicalization of the Egyptian regime!!! are you aware that 75% of Egyptians want to live under Sharia? The blame game must end, we cannot keep blaming Saudi money and America and Europe for radical Egypt.

    • jack

      Brenda i agree with you 100% the egyptian people are the problem why i know that??

      Well because i live in egypt…I am fed up with the egyptian muslims attacking my secularist ideas and wanting me dead.

      Many egyptians hate israel and if you give them the right to vote then they will vote an idiot like them.

      i am an atheist and the egyptian revolution is no tea party for the fact that in el tahrir square el Qaradwi was welcomed and cheered there.

      also the economy is worse and tourism is dead

  • nightspore

    Some of these comments sound like those of people defending their own preconceptions rather than being willing to consider new information in order to better understand what is going on. I found this post very interesting, although I, too, remain skeptical on the whole.

  • dawning

    There is ONLY strong islam and weak islam. Every muslim wants every non muslim DEAD. It is just a matter of time. Every "agreeable, compilant, moderate muslim is simply taqiyya and another treaty of al-hudaybiyah. The muslim "religion cannot be changed or mollified. We all must live our lives accordingly. PREPARE mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

  • Mojo

    "I believe the Egyptian regime would be only as radical as the world allows it to be."

    That is a kind of conspiracy theory thinking approach, which I do not agree with. And if that's the case:

    1- Why the revolutionary intellectual seculars did the revolution, if they believe the world is choosing the regime of Egypt?

    2- If the world will decide the new regime of Egypt according to a pragmatic political approach, I think they will choose a group who has the means and the power to control the emotions of the Egyptian masses, and in this case with all my respect to any political party, the Muslim Brotherhood and Radical Islamists are the winners big time!!!

    ''I saw a remarkable and unexpected display of civility, tolerance, and well-articulated demands from unorganized Egyptian protesters.''

    I think those qualities were just for the show of the revolution to the world and after that everything is back to normal, and actually, Christians are suffering more after the fall of Mubarak.

    • jack

      Yep mojo i agree with you.After mubark has fallen attacks on christians has increased wich was not much during his era.

      Also i was attacked by a muslim and his mob that tried to rape my mom.

      Islam must be reformed because people will hate jews and christians because there book tells them to hate them.

      • SpiritOf1683

        Islam will never be reformed for the better, because to change Islam would mean changing the contents of the Koran, and dropping verses that relate to Jihad. But under Sharia law, that is blasphemy and we all know that blasphemy is punishable by death or a lengthy prison sentence, and even if you come out of prison, you're likely to be stoned to death by an angry mob. As a result Islam is stuck in the 7th century with no sign of any reformation for the better. If anything, a so-called Wahhabi 'reformation' is making that cult even more draconian and intolerant.

  • Jack

    Well let me correct things here as i come from a Euro family and i live in egypt.The problem is with people and how islam brain washed them.

    I was beaten by a muslim in a gym and mostly they didn't really protect me but stood against me and that was from the people of egypt.The resone because during ramdan i refused to feast.

    Also i asked many muslims about freedom of religion and they said that apostates should be in prison.

    Sorry but from the reality and hard life i have seen in my life tells me that egypt is going in to facist state.

  • steven l

    Mubarak and the rest were and are crypto Islamo-fundamentalists who have been hiding their true believes for $3 billion/year.
    There is no other way to explain his opposition to the growth of democracy in Egypt.
    Now that it is in the open, thanks to BHO they will still get the $3 B for not abrogating the treaty w Israel while undermining the spirit of the treaty.
    BHO has been contaminated during his childhood and his believes reinforced by pastor J Wright.
    That is toxic. There is a possibility of deception (taqiyyah) as they say in the Qur'an. Time will tell.

  • Cynthia Farahat

    You know Brenda, come to think of it, when I said most of the attacks that happened on Copts for the past 10 years were state-sponsored, I actually meant ALL the major attacks that happened on Christians were state-sponsored! Not a single major attack was random, not only that, Mubarak's terrorist regime didn't even make an effort to cover up their tracks in each incident that the people responsible from his regime or from state security are very well known to the victims, their families and the media! It's mind-blowing really!

  • Cynthia Farahat

    Let me show you evidence, so you can see how easy it is to prove that Mubarak's regime was a Christian killing machine. On January 2010, seven people were randomly shot at and killed at Nag Hammadi by a man who proudly confessed to his crime, this man called Hamam Kamouni, Kamouni also miraculously happens to be the campaign manager of the National Democratic Party representative of the same area, Abdel Rehim El-Ghoul, who is known for his christianophobia and his numerous anti-Coptic remarks and here is a video of them together, where the NDP representative and Member of Parliament is calling the mass murderer his man!

    This is how offensive and repulsive it is, that not only they are directly involved, it's common knowlage here that they don't even make an effort to hide their direct involvement in killing Copts and then someone like you, comes along to defend them!

    • WildJew

      Cynthia, you've made a compelling case that contrary to what some believed about Mubarak and his seeming moderation when compared to Muslim Brotherhood, he was NOT a good guy, but a ruffian who enabled hatred for and persecution of Egypt's Christian minority. Notwithstanding, I think you can get the sense on this forum, many Americans post 9/11 have been and are educating themselves about the threat posed by Islam itself. We see Islam as a violent and intolerant religion, from its inception. That is why we are hesitant to conceive of a peaceable future for Egypt or any other Muslim-dominated country.

      • Cynthia Farahat

        I don't think the near future is going to be different than how things where during Mubarak's reign of terror, I haven't got a single death threat since he's gone, which is great, but I don't think anything will change, the only thing that changed is that people are much more interested in learning more about politics, which will eventually lead to freedom. Even if this process takes a century, it's heading there. I'm very realistic when it comes to my expectations to a nations that has been systematically ideologically subverted for 60 years.

        • nina

          You seem knowledgeable about your country, and being a Christian in a Moslem county adds credence to your point of view. The interview, therefore, showed me that there is a glimmer of hope. Let's leave it at that.

  • Cynthia Farahat

    If a video of the man who proudly confessed to shooting and killing people leaving Church on the Coptic Christmas Eve with the MP and National Democratic Party representative where the government official is calling him "his man", the same official who promised to "teach Copts a lesson" isn't enough evidence for you to the regime's direct involvement then I'm sorry the truth isn't convenient enough for you.

  • Mojo

    The core problem is Islam and the wide spectrum of brainwashed muslims from radical to normal, they are the same there is no difference because they follow the same demonic texts of Quran. So accordingly even if you get the best secular and democratic government in the history of mankind to rule Egypt, still nothing will ever change. At the end of the day it will end up to some wishful thinking of some good hearted people like you Cynthia. Keep on being optimistic that's something good, but always remember the problem is not the regime the problem is Islam and muslims and that is a fact. And if you see that Islam and muslims are cool and you can live a peaceful tolerant life together, in that case be my guest and enjoy living with them.

  • rbla

    All Muslim rulers whether secular like Mubarak, or an unconventional Muslim like Kaddafi have to throw at least some crumbs to the Muslim mob to keep them under control. The problem is Islam and its unreformable doctrines. Cynthia is a very courageous young lady but she should come to grips with that inconvenient truth.

    • Cynthia Farahat

      I have a serious problem with you calling Mubarak "secular" when he governed with a Sharia based constitution, banned secular parties, and imprisoned, killed, and tortured seculars for being secular! Please, don't call Mubarak secular.

    • Punjabuk

      Cynthia actually does know the inconvenient truth, and a lot more than even staunch patriotic Americans would want to admit. Attempts have been made to reform Islam, most notably by Irshad Manji of Canada. Wahhabism/Salafism wept over the more open Islamic practices such as veneration of Sufis in South Asia and that of marabouts in West Africa. People often make the mistake of saying the true Islam is more tolerant than Salafism, which is only a perversion. They point to Sufism. But Sufism covers wide doctrines. The poetry of Rumi and Ibn Arabi is just unbeatable, uplifting you when you are feeling depressed. But many such Sufis were accused of apostacy. Madho Lal Hussain is venerated in Pakistan but condemned for his close friendship with a Hindu. The poems of Baba Farid are found in Shri Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy text). But the Naqshbandi order were very intolerant.

      Cynthia is operating in a very claustrophobic mind destroying environment which yearns for the very freedoms which people in the west take for granted. As the trial of Geert Wilders shows few will admit that Islam is the obstacle. Even well read conservatives such as Dinesh D'Souza perform mental gymnastics to lay the problem elsewhere. At least Christopher Hitchens says it like it is. The only long term hope is for Egypt and other such countries to secularise, democratise and allow true entrepreneurship to flourish rather then being dependent on employment on NGO's or an intrusive state which with its excessive bureaucracy does nothing to alleviate poverty or inculcate civic and liberal values. Turkey unfortunately is going back to its Islamic roots having been led astray by a secular system in which Ataturk only replaced Islam with a virulent and intolerant form of Turkish nationalism. However as Christopher Hitchens says Iran will fall due to the demographic bulge of disaffected youth. This will be even more of a surprise than the 1979 revolution and will create a domino effect that Islamic totalitarianism is not invincible. Also just as the western "ally" of Pakistan has eben exposed for harbouring Bin Ladin, USA will at some point have to take its so-called friend Saudi Arabia for sending money, ideology, and volunteers to spread Islamic terrorism and imperialism around the world in order to establish its New Order with well-meaning but as usual rather pathetic Leftists. as their "useful idiots".

  • nina

    But she lives in Egypt. Don't we have to accept what she is saying? Unless it's wishful thinking and she is deluding herself.