The more you know, the more you dont.

I came to Egypt thinking that June 30th was a popular uprising, spearheaded by many of the young liberals who lead the January 25th revolution in 2011. Their revolution had been high-jacked and their vision for Egypt distorted by a man who had mistaken his election by popular vote as the ‘freedom’ to rule as a dictator. So on June 30th, they took to the streets once again, announcing that the revolution was still going, and that they had returned to take it back. This time they were joined by an unprecedented number of Egyptians from almost all factions of society and within a short period of time, the military (backed by a coalition of a wide variety of representatives) intervened on their behalf, turning everything over to an interim, civilian, government.

Since arriving in Egypt, I have set out to see if there’s more to the story.  Over the past few weeks I have had distinct pleasure of meeting with a wide range of politically inclined Egyptians. Some are activists, some hold leadership positions within political parties, some work for local NGOs, and others simply choose to identify themselves as politically inclined citizens. Each of these conversations has pointed to a bigger picture that I admittedly knew very little of.

I sat on bean bags and drank cookies and cream milkshakes with my revolutionary socialist/Leninist friend in his modern, hip, office enclosed by walls coated in contemporary Arab and Western art. Here I heard that the military is by far the most powerful player in the political landscape and that it was working in concert with members of the old Mubarak regime to find a reason to rid the country of Mursi ever since his election. The young people who returned to the streets in accordance with the Tamarod movement simply gave them the opportunity they needed to take action. Interests converged and voila…no more Mursi. While Tamarod’s intentions are pure, it has very little power and no one to effectively lead its supporters. As such, its alliance with the military and members of the Mubarak regime, while effective in removing Mursi, is dangerous for the future as they have welcomed much more powerful players which no longer share their mutual interests. As my Leninist friend bitterly mused, the country has effectively experienced a counterrevolution which could very well set it back to the way it was before the January 25th revolution.

But I also had kabab and kofta while seated next to a Muslim Brotherhood supporter at a nice sports club downtown. In between mouthfuls of food, this man angrily lectured me, aggressively posing rhetorical questions. He bitterly stated that people should have waited until parliamentary and presidential elections to remove Mursi. That Mursi never really had control over anything to begin with and that the military had been running the show a certain way the whole time in order to secure his removal. He also went on to tell me that I should be happy with the democratic system in Egypt, since I (an American) was the one who had imported it there.

I spoke with a few cynical NGO workers. I sat on the couch with them in an apartment in El Ma’adi, watching them smoke cigarette after cigarette and lament over their resignation to the fact that Egypt was and always will be a military state. Even if young people start a grassroots movement like Tamarod, they are basically powerless when compared to the military. So long as people railed against the military, true change would never happen; everyone’s better off just accepting their power for now so that we can move forward and try to make changes later. The only group the military can’t take on is the people, and the people’s love for them is so deeply woven into the fabric of the Egyptian identity that it will be a long time before they collectively oppose them. Even during the period of their interim rule following the January 25th revolution where they saw mass protests, their approval rating was still at a shocking 85% and that’s the lowest its ever been.

But still I returned to Ma’adi on another night and grabbed a seat at a nice outdoor cafe to chat with a member of Mohamed El Baradei‘s Dostour or ‘Constitution’ party who spoke to my own predispositions. As we sipped on our frozen mint lemonades, I felt reassured. The military was simply intervening on behalf of people who had lost their revolution. Those who had come to their aid and support on June 30th did so solely based on their mutual desire for basic freedoms and human rights. Wait until the next election?! Why? There’s no sense in waiting for the next round of elections when Democracy never existed to begin with. Democracy is not equivalent to voting and to act on this notion is disastrous. He continued to justify the events of June 30th by citing a laundry list of grievances which included a constitution that paid little attention to the rights of Christians and women, the Brotherhood’s alliance with Hamas and an increase in terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula, violence towards Christians, favoritism towards members of the Brotherhood (health care, food, propane), Egypt having to import fruits, vegetables, and cotton (goods it typically exports…think there’s a fancy economics term for that), electricity frequently cutting out, a gas crisis, and an overall authoritative style of government which had denied its people basic human rights, supervised an increase in terrorism and sectarian violence, and prioritized a regional Islamist agenda over the basic needs of the Egyptian people.

But just when I felt reassured, I thought back to something the Brotherhood supporter said. “Did you ever stop to wonder why the gas crisis was only a day long? Or why the electricity problem just happened to end right after Mursi was removed from power?”

So now what do I think about June 30th? I still think that Tamarod got things moving with all the right intentions, and that many others who joined them did so in order to further the goals of the January 25th revolution. However, I also believe that there was a certain convergence of interests going on. Certainly there are higher powers involved with their own interests in mind and I am apprehensive about what those higher powers will do moving forward. This is admittedly, a two-dimensional opinion, but it is only through continued discussion and research that I can confidently expand upon it.

“Wait so…where are you going right now?”

The title of this post is the question posed by my cab driver on our way to JFK after I told him I was on my way to Egypt to work in a position that had been suspended, on behalf of a school which had just informed me it could not sanction a trip to a country whose president had been removed only 48 hours ago.

The man had a point. I mean what in God’s name was I doing? A revolution had just occurred, my school wasn’t sanctioning my trip, my internship had been (what I hope is temporarily) suspended, and my parents had all but begged me not to go. Why was I doing this?

I’ve been trying to get to Egypt and do something valuable for nearly 5 years now. I’ve always thought it would be fun to go and spend some time here on my own, but I was hell-bent on making sure that I would also do something valuable during that time. So I’ve spent the past few years getting rejected from a Fulbright project, never hearing back from job opportunities, coming very close to accepting the opportunity to do grad school at the American University in Cairo, and more. Every time I’ve tried to make the trip here though, something has stopped me. Whether it be flat out rejection, or the realization that the value I had initially sought out was no longer present.

So here I was on the day of travel, presented with yet another reason not to go to Egypt. Except that this time, I was way too close to even think about turning around.

So I’ve decided to do an independent study on “Democracy in Revolutionary Egypt.” I want to understand exactly who is vying for democracy, what their vision for democracy in Egypt is, and how different groups differ from one another within this vision.

At the same time I’m also here for personal reasons. Sure I’m Egyptian, sure I speak Arabic, sure I’ve been to Egypt many times since birth, and sure I have plenty of family here. But I’ve never actually lived here.

Ultimately I hope not only to understand Egypt’s current political environment, but also to understand a place I have admired and been proud of my entire life but never actually lived in.

And if youre interested, I hope to keep you posted along the way.