Academic addresses political landscape of post-revolution Egypt

George Peery introduces speaker Samer Traboulsi to talk the state of knowledge of the Middle East within the last two years at the Reuter Center last Wednesday. Photo by Jorja Smith.

by Shanee Simhoni – Staff Writers – [email protected]
Although Monday marked the second anniversary of the official resignation of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt remains in a state of turmoil, with many opposing parties claiming a role in its constantly changing political scene, according to Samer Traboulsi, associate professor of history at UNC Asheville.
“It’s in flux, like many places in the Middle East right now,” said Linda Cornett, chair of the political science department at UNCA.  “It’s a changing time, and it creates lots of opportunities and lots of anxieties too.”
Traboulsi, who conducts research on the history of pre-modern Middle East, spoke about post-revolution Egypt on Feb. 5 at UNCA’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the Reuter Center.  The Western North Carolina World Affairs Council, OLLI and the department of political science co-sponsored a series of talks that included Traboulsi’s speech.
“There was a good turnout,” Cornett said.  “It’s a lively audience with a lot of experience, and it keeps the speakers on their toes.”
Traboulsi told the audience about Egyptian police officials who beat young Khaled Saeed to death on June 6, 2010, after he filmed a police officer engaging in a drug deal.  Wael Ghonim, another Egyptian, created a Facebook page to bring attention to the situation.
“This is really unique,” said George Peery, president of the Western North Carolina World Affairs Council. “This is worth paying attention to.”
Following the violent police attacks in 2010, an announcement on Facebook and Twitter prompted young Egyptians to protest in Tahrir Square on Jan. 25, 2011, to which police forces retaliated violently, Traboulsi said.
“Youth movements are important often as instigators to political change, but they have less staying power than some more established institutions that also are often in the forefront of these movements but then stay there,” said Cornett, a board member of the World Affairs Council.
Responding to the protests in Cairo, Mubarak gave the first of three speeches on Jan. 28, 2011, to which citizens angrily showed the bottom of their shoes, a sign of disrespect.  In an attempt to regain control following his second unsuccessful speech on Feb. 1, police officials riding on camels and horses attacked protestors in Tahrir Square in what became the Battle of the Camel on Feb. 2, until Mubarak officially resigned on Monday, following the third speech, Traboulsi said.
“Since then, of course, there’s been this whole kind of Arab Spring, Arab Awakening,” said Peery, a former political science professor at Mars Hill College.  “What it will take is some kind of recognition that opposition voices are OK, but that somebody has to have enough power and enough agency and enough support to make decisions.”
After Mubarak’s resignation, a series of the first unrigged democratic votes in decades occurred.  Voters passed constitutional amendments limiting presidential authority, including a ban on declaring a state of emergency, and participated in parliamentary elections.  The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s well-organized non-radical Islamists, took 47 percent of the parliamentary seats.  The Al-Nur, or Light Party, Egypt’s radical Islamists, took 25 percent, and the remaining seats went to independents, as dictated by Egyptian law, Traboulsi said.
“There is more support for seculars in the cities, but outside the city, there’s a lot more support for the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Calvin Oppenheim, a resident of Weaverville who attended Traboulsi’s speech.
Although the secular youths instigated the protests that led to Mubarak’s resignation, they only won two seats in the parliamentary election because of lack of political organization.  The Supreme Constitutional Court later dissolved the newly elected parliament after the mandatory independents switched to the Muslim Brotherhood after the election, said Traboulsi, a Lebanon native.
“The big election happened in June 2012 for the presidential elections.  For the first round, there were several candidates, but it ended up with two candidates.  One is Ahmed Shafik, who is secular, but he used to be a minister under Mubarak,” Traboulsi said. “ A lot of people, even secular youth, opposition, everyone, sided back to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and that’s how the Muslim Brotherhood won.”

A crowd gathered to hear Samer Traboulsi, UNCA associate professor of history, discuss the changing climate in Egypt following the resignation of their president two years ago. Photo Jorja Smith.

The Supreme Court swore in Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate.  Following his election, Morsi took back control over the Supreme Court of the Armed Forces, which played a large role in the transitional period of the revolution after Mubarak’s resignation, Traboulsi said.
“One of the players among those remnants is the Supreme Court of the Armed Forces, who are still active,” Traboulsi said.  “During the revolution, they were neutral.  They were trying to mediate, not to attack the protestors, but at the same time, protecting the state institutions.  After the revolution when they became in power, they played a role in fermenting tension between Christians and Muslims.”
After the revolution, instances of police brutality continued on civilians, causing more protests, Traboulsi said.
“There are outside parties that have an interest in this.  So he has to be sensitive, too, to how the international community is viewing what’s going on,” Cornett said.  “I think his most immediate interest, though, is getting control of the violence in the country.”
Although the Muslim Brotherhood remains the most organized party in the revolution, many other groups play a crucial role in the unfolding events, including the Al-Nur party and the April 6 Youth Movement, who, although unorganized, started the revolution, Traboulsi said.
“The other very interesting groups are the Ultras of the Ahly soccer team, and the Ultras are the most feared of the opposition, because the Ultras are a group of soccer fans.  They have nothing to do with politics,” Traboulsi said.  “When the revolution started on Jan. 25, the Ultras were one of the first to go into the streets.”
On Feb. 1, 2012, at a game in Port Said between the Ahly and Masry soccer teams, the Masry Ultras locked some of the Ahly Ultras in the stadium, and sent Masry thugs in with swords and other weapons, where almost 80 Ahly Ultras died, with no resistance from police.  Twenty-two Masry Ultras received the death sentence, after which protests broke out in Port Said, Traboulsi said.
“Port Said went out of the control of the state, which led Morsi to announce a state of emergency again, after it was lifted in 2012, resulting in a complete uprising against him, because here, we’re back, Morsi’s playing the same game as Mubarak,” said Traboulsi, who speaks English, Arabic and French and studied Persian.
Even within the past two weeks, new opposition groups continue to form.  The Egyptian Black Block Anarchists are under scrutiny from the state.  They wear masks and neither state nor press knows their identity, much to the concern of Morsi’s administration, Traboulsi said.
“There’s a lot of optimism that things will be better in the end, but there’s a lot of anxiety that things could get worse before they get better,” Cornett said.