CAIR-Chicago Hosts Brown Bag Lunch Panel on American Activists’ Trip to Egypt
By Noor Salahuddin, Communications intern
CAIR-Chicago hosted a brown bag lecture featuring Joshua Hoyt, the Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), Lawrence Benito, Deputy Director at ICIRR, Merhdad Azemun from the National Peoples Action, and Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director of CAIR-Chicago. The event took place at CAIR-Chicago’s gallery on Tuesday, October 18th. The four discussed their recent trip to Egypt and reflected on the development and successes of the Egyptian uprising.
Rehab, who is also a board member of ICIRR, spoke on whether the constitution or the elections should have been decided on first. The Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood, an influential Islamic political party in Egypt, wish to hold parliamentary elections before deciding upon the constitution. More than 75% of Egypt’s population has supported this bid, solidifying the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity in the country. The parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held from November 2011 to January 2012.
“I am hopeful about Egypt’s future and believe in a long-term vision instead of short-term goals. It will take at least two to five years for stability in Egypt,” Rehab commented.
Azemun discussed his Iranian background and recalled how the Shah’s regime in Iran was overthrown in a similar way. He also elaborated upon the labor movement and how it influenced the Egyptian uprising. Change swept in slowly with the textile mill protests in 2006 to the labor union’s strike in 2008 to the independent labor unions’ first full blown protest in 2010. Azemun clarified that while social media played an important role in the uprising, it was far from the only deciding factor. “Self-organization was the most important and noticeable aspect of this uprising. The protesters on the street were there without any prompting or help,” Azemun explained. Azemun agreed with Rehab that long-term stability and freedom were the main goals of the Egyptian people.
Benito discussed the strength and conviction of the Egyptian people and how it related to his immigrant background. He said that the freedoms and opportunities Americans take for granted were unavailable to Egyptians under Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
Hoyt, who also wrote a Huffington Post article about the visit, said that the military presence in Egypt did much damage, killing many innocent civilians and protesters. He explained that the military hired thugs to beat up Coptic Christians and create unnecessary conflict and bloodshed. Even though the uprising seems overnight, he noted, it was a slow gathering storm, taking everyone but the Egyptians by surprise. Hoyt remained hopeful about the future and urged political dissenters to persevere. “If people weren’t actively pushing back, things would be worse off in the long-run,” Hoyt surmised, ending the meeting on a hopeful note.