Part 5: ‘People have changed, the government hasn’t’

Before leaving Cairo, WRS’s Tony Ganzer gathers the views of people across various sectors in Egypt, including those with organizations headquartered in Switzerland, to find out whether they think the country is on the right course:

Despite the constant din of Cairo traffic and residents, there are still quieter spots in certain parts of the city.  Occasionally one finds a place along the Nile. It’s also relatively calm in the southern Cairo neighborhood of Maadi.  It’s where the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross has its offices.

SPREYERMANN:  “The transition is not yet over. It has changed to a large extent from the demonstrations, frequent demonstrations, and related to that clashes with the police.  It has changed from that to the more political process.”

Klaus Spreyermann is the head of delegation for the ICRC in Egypt.

SPREYERMANN: “Many services and  decision makings are slowed down, if not blocked, due to the fact that nobody knows today, and that is really a new perspective, nobody really knows exactly where the country is going on a political level.  We have seen 70 percent of Islamist parties actually being represented in the new parliament.  How this is going to affect the country, where it is going, these are things we can’t clearly see.”

The ICRC has been in Egypt since at least 1935, Spreyermann says, giving it much time to watch Egypt’s changes over the years, but it’s unclear what the country will soon look like.

Spreyermann is convinced the next great challenge here will be economic.

SPREYERMANN:  “With the tourism down, not surprisingly with all this bad or disturbing news that people get from Cairo too often, this is very practically influencing the possibility for income for the population.  You add to that, for example, the return of hundreds of thousands of people who used to work in Libya, due to the conflict.  These remittances are not coming back.”

These economic challenges, and those particularly affecting refugees in the region, are some of the biggest concerns of the UN’s Refugee Agency, UNHCR.  Karmen Sakhr is the Senior Protection Officer at the UNHCR Cairo office.

KARMEN SAKHR: “I have to say that the situation is not very ideal, because socially, economically it is challenging for the persons of concern, so we deal with a lot of frustration.  I think that colleagues have been doing a great job in managing, at the same time, the changes, the political changes in the country, and with our persons of concern here.  It has been a very, very exhausting year.”

Sakhr says things in Egypt aren’t as bad as some might think they are, though there are problems.  Some observers, like the Swiss government, are offering aid in the time of uncertainty.  Benjamin Frey is the deputy head of the Swiss Programme Office, in the Swiss Embassy in Cairo.

BENJAMIN FREY: “Well I think it’s fundamental to understand that this country does not necessarily have a democratic past.  It means that there is, of course, a potential here. There is a civil society that had very much trouble functioning under the Mubarak regime.”

That means the Swiss are aiding NGOs, the media, but also the Egyptian government to understand democratic systems.

But some problems could be institutional. Khaled Fahmy is the chair of the history department at the American University in Cairo.

KHALED FAHMY:  “It’s business as usual, but people are not as usual.  The people have changed.  The government hasn’t changed.  It is up to you, and to your listeners, to make up their minds on whether or not the revolution has succeeded.  I think that if people change, that is the most difficult thing.  We see a very determined effort on the part of the regime to stay in power, this is a very, very well-entrenched regime.  So it’s not easy, it’s not going to be dislodged in a day or two, or indeed, not even in a year or two.”

As Egypt continues to feel its way toward a new type of governance, Fahmy thinks the most confusing, and dangerous actor is the ruling military council.  It is inherently undemocratic, like any military, he says.  He disagrees with but doesn’t worry about the rise of political Islam in Egypt.

But the lack of control and oversight over the ruling military, Fahmy says, is a grave danger to democracy.

This story was part of a 2013 Edward Murrow award winning entry

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