What do you know about Egypt?

Do you know that Egypt is the world’s most populous Arab country and the cultural centre of the Middle East and its stability is highly important to the region? This is only one thing from a variety I have not known until I met Kleopatra Yousef*. Kleopatra works as a Junior Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) in Athens. She is involved in the research project on Governance of Irregular Migration (IRMA) focusing on Pakistani irregular migration to Greece and in the research project developing a cooperation network to link representatives of Mediterranean member states facing similar challenges as Greece in respect to the integration of third country nationals. Her father is from Egypt, so I found the opportunity to ask her some things about Egypt.

We had a very constructive discussion around various issues relating to Egypt. She explained to me that the country is currently facing a very unstable period in terms of political and social life. In 2012 after the Arab Spring’s uprising, Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Muhammad Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically elected leader after winning the first post-Hosni Mubarak presidential election. His rise to the helm of power was a sharp reversal for the Muslim Brotherhood that was repressed for decades under Mubarak’s rule, and it was part of a general rise to power of Islamists.

She made me understand how Morsi’s government faced severe criticism as liberal and secular activists accused the government, and the Muslim Brotherhood in general, of trying to monopolize power and failing to implement essential social and economic reforms. They also drew criticism over a series of charges and complaints against activists, journalists and TV personalities. Morsi was deposed a year later through a combination of mass anti-government protest and a military coup. Since then, the country remains deeply divided between Islamist and secular groups, while Egyptian military remains the country’s chief political broker and decision-maker. Especially after the ongoing violence and criminal attacks since last July, political uncertainty and anxiety over the future have generated ongoing political protest, labour strikes, deep mistrust between Islamist and secular parties, as well as Muslim-Christian tension in some parts of the country.

Moreover, Kleopatra Yousef informed me that Egypt’s former constitution placed the “principles” of sharia as the main source of legislation, providing non-Muslims with the right to preserve their own traditions so as to deal with social and legal matters. Hard-line Islamists, for their part, want the new constitution to declare either “the rules of sharia”, or simply sharia, as the main source of legislation. The current politically unstable situation is partly due to the dispute over the full application of sharia.

When I asked her about the Western World she said to me that Western World has officially condemned the attacks of the military over the Muslim Brotherhood protesters since last July (USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia). Meanwhile the period during which Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were in power, political “involvement”, diplomatic and financial support has been largely provided behind the scenes by other Islamic countries such as Turkey and Qatar. I asked her, also, if the situation in Syria can cause some effects in Egypt and she told me that the civil war in Syria will definitely create refugee flows moving to the rest of Arab countries, in which Egypt is included.

I want to thank Kleopatra Yousef for the discussion we had and for their valuable assistance in getting closer to a country that is going through a deep crisis.

Picture by Elina Leli

* Kleopatra Yousef:
She has graduated from the Social Administration Department of the Democritus University of Thrace in Athens and holds a Master of Science degree on the subject of “European Politics and Policies” from the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven (KUL), Belgium (2005). Her research experience includes the Middle-East, North Africa and wide Euro-Mediterranean area focusing on issues such as integration of third-country nationals and community development. (EuropeAid project on “Bridging the Gap: Building Community Empowerment and Sustainable Development in Southern Giza Marginal Communities”). She has also looked into human smuggling in Greece as part of a UNODC project on human smuggling in Northern Africa.

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