It’s been over a year since the revolution first started in Egypt, since protest and demonstrations brought the bustling city of Cairo to a halt as everyday Egyptians united demanding reforms to their government. Recently, the country witnessed its first democratic presidential election, a milestone not only for the nation, but for the greater Arab world. As the surrounding region still finds itself immersed in turmoil as protests continue in the face of government crackdowns, Egypt may be the one country that can be looked upon in the near future as a positive model for the future of the Arab world. That is, if it doesn’t repeat the mistakes of its former regime.
This past Sunday, CAIR-Chicago’s Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab, presented a lecture titled “Egypt at a Crossroads: The Making of the Second Republic” at the American Islamic College in Chicago. Rehab, who is Egyptian, made several trips to his homeland in the past, his latest one being in the midst of the presidential elections.
Space was limited at the lecture and the room quickly filled up with a mixed crowd of student interns, young adults, and elderly who all listened intently, several of them jotting down notes onto their pads or typing away on their MacBooks.
Rehab, like his fellow countrymen, couldn’t be happier that Hosni Mubarak’s rule was finally overthrown. Mubarak held a dictator-like grip over his country that would go unchallenged for over 30 years. It wasn’t easy to bring down a system that was not only steeped in corruption, but had grown used to its ways of double-dealings behind closed doors as everyday Egyptians battled with poverty, lack of human rights, and continued persecution from military police.
“To end an entire regime meant toppling institutions, organizations, and networks that were quite deep,” said Rehab. Although Egypt is no longer under the control of Mubarak’s former brutal security forces, Rehab believes there needs to be more progress if Egypt wants to emerge from the revolution with the principles and values it was initially waged for, beginning with a constitution.
“It’s one thing to topple a regime, it’s another to build a nation,” he says. “We need to have a constitution first. If you want to build a nation, think of constructing a building. Can you put the 10th floor or 3rd floor before the foundation? The constitution isn’t just the foundation – it’s the blueprint.”
The lecture also touched upon other topics that were instrumental in the revolution, including the military, youth activists, media, U.S. involvement, and the role of political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Rehab, some political groups hindered the revolution because these parties would put personal ambitions before what was good for the Egyptian people, something Rehab is critical about for the newly elected president – Mohamad Morsi.
Although Morsi is a far cry from the rampant corruption of Mubarak’s days, Rehab would’ve liked to see Morsi be clearer on his policies for a new Egypt and stray away from infusing religion into political matters. “I don’t want my president to be the one to instruct me on religion,” said Rehab. “I have my sheikh, I have my father, my mother. I have whoever I deem worthy of going to for advice.”
He’s not the only one who shares these views. Many of the young activists in Egypt that shed blood while spearheading the revolution are also wary of groups who might want to implement their own particular religious ideology. Nonetheless, Morsi hasn’t impressed Rehab yet, but it is too early to dismiss Morsi yet and the impact he might have on the new parliament.
Rehab isn’t done with his travels to Egypt, as he continues to documet the historic events taking place in his home country. He is currently working on a full-length documentary called “Beyond Tahrir” with his fellow colleagues from Chicago. The film will delve deeper into the protests and demonstrations that took the world by surprise over a year ago. And maybe by the time the documentary is released, the world can compare how far Egypt has truly come since the days of the revolution.