Campus Responds to Egyptian Protest

Campus Responds to Egyptian Protest

Inundated with academic, ath­letic and social stresses, it’s some­times difficult to see past the realm of the Colgate campus. However, as we complete lab reports and the­sis papers, millions of Egyptians – some barely older than 18 – are protesting the 30-year regime of President Hosni Mubarak, largely organizing and gathering support through Facebook and Twitter. Two recent events on campus have at­tempted to offer information and understanding of this faraway, yet pivotal, event.

On Thursday, February 3, the Heretics Club hosted Nady Abdal- Ghaffar, Lecturer in Arabic, and Noor Khan, Assistant Professor of History, to educate attendees on the events of the past ten days of revolution, specifically focusing on the role religion has played.

According to Associate University Chaplain Mark Shiner, the Heretics Club was created about five years ago for people who do not necessarily identify with a certain religion. “We wanted to create a way to address matters involving faith or religion, at a more practical level,” he said. “Our purpose is to provide an opportu­nity to talk about faith, spirituality, meaning and purpose in a way that isn’t attached to a certain religion.”

Addressing the revolution in Egypt seemed a logical topic for the February 3 meeting. “It’s an urgent issue with a religious role,” Chaplain Shiner said. “We invited Professors Khan and Abdal-Ghaffar because, firstly, they’re both Mus­lim, secondly, they’re very knowl­edgeable on the matter, thirdly, they’re sensitive to and committed to a multi-faith perspective and, lastly, they truly understand what’s going on.”

Ann Zinsmeister, Office Man­ager for the Office of the Chap­lains, said that Heretics Club topics are student-inspired. “It’s good for students to know what’s going on,” she said. “We have experts here who are intimately involved with [the events in Egypt], so it was logical to have them speak.”

Additionally, on Tuesday, Febru­ary 8, the Institute of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics hosted a panel discussion, with Professor of Political Science Bruce Rutherford as the primary speaker. Associate Professor of Political Science Doug Macdonald and Ghaffar, served as commentators. Professor Stanley Brubaker moderated the panel.

Rutherford’s portion of the dis­cussion offered an explanation of the causes of the demonstrations, attrib­uting Tunisia’s successful revolution to economic and political problems, and the role of the social media. He gave an overview of the demonstra­tors, stressing that a difference in these protests is that young people are bringing their parents, not vice versa. The response of the govern­ment has been the use of plain­clothes policemen, hired thugs and governmental appeals for calm.

Rutherford also stressed that his biggest concern for the demonstra­tors is their lack of leadership. For reform to happen, the protesters require some leaders to articulate and negotiate their wants with the government.

Both of these events allowed the situation in Egypt to become more tangible and comprehen­sible. “I think it’s great to hear a firsthand source, not through the filter of the U.S. media,” senior Shannon Greulich said, following the Heretics Club event.

Though revolution was unex­pected, Egyptian society has major problems that make protest logi­cal. “Of the 80 million people in Egypt, about 30 million live below the poverty line,” Abdal-Ghaffar said. “The people in Egypt are most concerned about their daily needs. At the end of the day, the most im­portant issue is how they’re going to get food on the table.”

Another issue, with which Colgate students may conceiv­ably identify, is a lack of jobs. “Young graduates want jobs, and that’s why they’re protesting,” Professor Abdal-Ghaffar said. “But a new system isn’t going to have enough jobs to satisfy the people protesting now.”

Khan emphasized that simply reading an American newspaper or watching a newscast would not provide a full or accurate portrayal of the occurrences in Egypt. “News about Egypt is seen through the lens of U.S. interest, and the U.S. wants stability,” Khan said. “This would require Egypt to allow quick and easy passage through the Suez Canal, peace with Israel as dictated by the Camp David Accords, for electoral politics to be accepted by the Muslim Brotherhood, and for a parliamentary democracy based on a Constitution, with a plurality of parties.”

It’s important to note that the culture of Egypt doesn’t foster as much political interest as in the U.S. “People don’t care about the govern­ment nearly as much as Americans. There is now debate in Egyptian households, which is something completely new to Egyptian soci­ety,” Abdal-Ghaffar said. “I don’t re­call ever meeting an Egyptian from the city who had voted before. In the country, voting is more com­mon, because you want to support a member of your family, or someone whom your family supports.” Abdal- Ghaffar has never voted in an Egyp­tian election.

Another aspect of Egyptian culture that is predominant in American media coverage of the revolution is the negative por­trayl of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, this representation is inaccurate. “The Muslim Broth­erhood is ill-represented by the American media: they are in no way connected to al-Qaeda; in fact, they completely denounce violence,” Abdal-Ghaffar said. “The Muslim Brotherhood isn’t considered Islamist by groups like al-Qaeda, because of their will­ingness to negotiate.”

The Obama Administration must decide if they will honor the longtime alliance with Egypt, and support President Mubarak, or comply with the wishes of protesters, and force him to step down. “I feel badly for the Obama Administration, because they’re in a really bad situation,” Abdal- Ghaffar said. “There’s no right an­swer, and a very fine line that they can’t cross.”

Khan agreed. “An Egyptian tweeted something along the lines of ‘tell the Americans we don’t hate them,'” she said. “Hate is too strong a word right now, but it could be­come appropriate if the U.S. screws this up.”

Without doubt, unrest and un­certainty will continue in Egypt. But, because of the opportunities Colgate has presented, students can understand what has occurred in Egypt, and hopefully be able to comprehend its ramifications for the future.

“If the protesting youth lose now, it’s just going to get worse. They have high hopes for achiev­ing what they want, and they don’t want to feel like someone broke them,” Abdal-Ghaffar said. “I fear if that were to hap­pen, they would go to the ex­treme of extremes. We’re risking sending the entire generation in the extreme direction.”