Local News

February 9, 2014

Egyptian native fights against ‘corrupt’ regime in home country

When Mohamed Ismail was growing up in Egypt, he never gave much thought to politics, he said. After all, he was from an elite family and didn’t have to deal with everyday problems that plagued many of the less-privileged.

Besides, he added, everyone was so sure former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak or one of his heirs or appointees would remain in dictatorial power that few people thought seriously of doing much about it.

In 2011, however, the country underwent a revolution that resulted in democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, who was backed by an Islamic political organization called the Muslim Brotherhood, rising to power. That lasted until last summer when a military coup ran him out of office, leaving the country back under what Ismail said is an illegitimate government that fuels a culture of corruption and bribery.

Ismail, who said he has lived in Dalton for several years after coming to the United States in the 1990s and eventually obtaining his citizenship, is part of an international movement, Egyptians Abroad for Democracy Worldwide, aimed at raising awareness of Egypt’s political situation.

Ismail said he recently met with several officials in Washington, D.C., and has participated in peaceful street protests in the U.S. in between sporadic visits abroad. Among the issues Ismail said he and others in the movement are concerned with is urging other nations not to recognize as legitimate the current government of Egypt.

“Part of the American Constitution is that we are not supposed to deal with a coup government, and we’re giving $1.5 billion to Egypt,” Ismail said. “I am OK if the money is going to the Egyptians to feed them, the poor people, but it’s going to the army.”

There have been several bombings in recent weeks as people in the country struggle to determine which direction it is headed. According to The Guardian newspaper, “Public sentiment is hard to quantify in Egypt” as more than 98 percent of participants voted for Egypt’s new constitution this month, “a sign of strong support for” military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, whom a Kuwaiti newspaper said plans to run for president.

Tom Mullen, a political science professor at Dalton State College who studies Egypt, said one facet of the political divide is between the country’s Muslims and Christians. Many Christians under Mubarak, he said, were appointed to positions of power and did well economically under the regime. When Morsi, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected, he began filling those seats with Muslims, Mullen said. Under the Muslim holy book, the Koran, there should be “absolute tolerance” for Christians and Jews, Mullen said.

Ismail said the religious groups lived in peace until the last few years of Mubarak’s regime. Under pressure to change important economic policies, the old regime instead diverted attention elsewhere, fueling bombings of mosques and churches in what Ismail said was a scheme to pit Christians and Muslims against one another. He said those bombings — as well as the ones still going on today — successfully diverted much of the world’s attention from the real struggles in Egypt for freedom.

“In order for a dictatorship to succeed, what do they do? They start dividing people,” Ismail said. “He (military general Sisi) is trying to cause a sectarian strife in Egypt for injustice, for dictatorship for him to rule.”

Mullen said when Mubarak’s regime was overthrown, Christians, who were treated well previously, began being targeted by the newly powerful Muslims who resented their previous status.

Mullen said that under Mubarak there was an elite group of perhaps 4 or 5 percent of the population that was “ostentatiously wealthy.” Ismail said that group — as well as other upper class citizens like those in his family — benefited from the corruption endemic in the old regime and feared that chaos would ensue with any changes. The push toward a more democratic government, he said, is led mostly by younger people looking for a better way of life for their country.

The U.S. has supplied aid to Egypt for years to the tune of nearly $2 billion annually, Mullen said.

“The Egyptian peace treaty with Israel is one of the major linchpins to U.S. policy in the Middle East,” he said. Any hampering of the relationships under that treaty made under President Carter in 1979 and Congress would move to shut down foreign aid right away, he said.

Ismail said he came to the United States while still a college student in the 1990s to visit a distant family member and experience life abroad. He said he has since obtained a master’s degree from Kennesaw State University and launched his own business, a high-end jewelry kiosk, at Hamilton Place Mall. He splits his time between Dalton and Chattanooga.

For more information on the movement, visit the Facebook page for Egyptians Abroad for Democracy Worldwide.


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