Mona Makram-Ebeid, former member of Egypt's Shura Council and a distinguished lecturer in the political science department at the American University in Cairo, spoke about the effects of the 2011 and 2013 revolutions on Egyptian society.
On September 24, the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center held a meeting on “Egypt’s Predicament after Two Revolutions” with Makram-Ebeid, also a former fellow at the Wilson Center. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Makram-Ebeid first addressed the events of July 3, 2013 and their aftermath. She characterized former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office as a “popular impeachment.” She stated that former President Morsi, while democratically elected, violated Egypt’s democratic institutions. In response to his behavior, 22 million Egyptians, nearly twice the number of Egyptians who elected him, signed a petition for his removal, and then 33 million people protested for his removal. The current conflict in Egypt, she believes, is a manifestation of the Egyptian people’s disappointment in the Muslim Brotherhood, turning from frustration into violence. The fighting is not between the army and the people, but, rather, between the people and political Islam.
Makram-Ebeid stated that the revolutions in 2011and 2013 created three major changes in Egyptian society: the emergence of a culture of political participation, the heightened violence against Coptic Christians, and the erosion of women’s rights.
Makram-Ebeid first discussed the change in character of the Egyptian political landscape. She said that all Egyptians have become politicized because the barrier of fear that prevented them from previously engaging politically had disappeared. This urge to participate has allowed Egyptians to transform themselves from subjects to citizens. Due to the emerging importance of Arab public opinion, the new actor on the political scene, in Egypt and elsewhere, is “the people.”
Next, she discussed the heightened violence toward Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. Citing several examples of unprovoked, religiously motivated attacks on Christians, Makram-Ebeid explained that Christians are no longer protected as they were under the previous authoritarian regimes. They now face uncertainty regarding their security in what she characterized as an “unchecked climate of religious intolerance.”
Makram-Ebeid also discussed the regression of women’s rights in Egypt. Makram-Ebeid said that Islamists, both Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, have contributed to this regression in civil rights and in women’s presence in the Egyptian government. She also spoke of increased sexual harassment in Egypt, which is being used to intimidate women into forgoing protests and leaving the public sphere.
Makram-Ebeid concluded by discussing the bitterness that Egypt now has toward the United States. She stated this feeling arose because of the U.S. government’s policies during the two revolutions and the Western media’s bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. Makram-Ebeid believes relations will improve if the United States takes a more critical look at the realities in Egypt and develops its policies accordingly.
By Julia Craig Romano, Middle East Program
- Former Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center; Distinguished Lecturer, American University, Cairo; and former Member of Parliament and Senator, Egypt