01-09-2012 - Traces, n. 8


“Here’s What Egypt Needs”
The Meeting of Rimini offered a bridge toward the Meeting of Cairo with the events on the Middle East, which featured a group of friends (who remained the entire week in Rimini) who are at once a mirror of Egyptian society and an anomaly.

Professor Abdel-Fattah Hassan wears a lapel pin with the Egyptian flag. When he begins speaking of politics, he shows me the tip of his right pinky, which is still smudged with ink from the mark of participation in the presidential elections. The people of the Meeting know him as the “Muslim Brother” who translated The Risk of Education into Arabic. He–together with Tahani Al Gibali, Vice President of Egypt’s Constitutional Court; Wael Farouq, Professor of Arabic at the American University of Cairo; and Hossam Mikawi, a judge and President of the Court of South Cairo–is part of the steering committee of the Cairo Meeting, the Egyptian cousin of the Rimini Meeting. They came this year, again, to a Meeting in which much has been said about the Middle East, and Egypt in particular. Rimini has become a precious observation point for understanding what is happening in Cairo.
This group of friends is at once the mirror of Egyptian society and an anomaly. From the political point of view, they represent all the alignments present in the country. Tahani Al Bigali is considered one of the major adversaries of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, while Abdel-Fattah Hassan is his personal friend. From the religious point of view, promoters of the Cairo Meeting include Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox, such as the young Coptic representative, Marianne Malak. The fact that this group exists is incomprehensible for many. The Pakistani analyst, Salman Shaikh, Director of the Doha office of the Brookings Institution, is amazed. At dinner with Farouq and Hassan, he asks, “You come from such different political positions. What is the goal that keeps you together?” Farouq responds right away: “Living the encounter and making it known to as many people as possible.” The American Middle East analyst and advisor Robert Reilly (see interview in Traces, Vol 17, No. 7 [July] 2012, pp. 42-45 ) also finds it hard to believe that an authoritative member of the Muslim Brotherhood walks with a smile around the halls of the Rimini Trade Fair Center: “Professor Hassan, you must explain to me how a delightful person like you can be part of an organization like that...” “If you have a little time, I’ll explain it to you...”

Conspiracy theories and hope. What is happening in Cairo? For Hassan, President Morsi is choosing his collaborators in a balanced way: “Only three ministers belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.” For Mikawi, the most important challenge is more on the institutional level than on the political one: “The Vice President, the President of the Constituent Assembly, and the Minister of Justice are all judges. This is a guarantee of competence.” As a liberal, Farouq has many reservations. “The President has chosen a technical government. But technocracy is good when the crisis happens in a country with a solid institutional foundation. Today in Egypt, this is not the case, and what is needed is someone who proposes a precise economic and political vision.”
Mikawi admits that that he does not understand the reason the members of the military council accepted such an unexpected exit from the scene. For Hassan, the decisive point was the August 5th attack in the Sinai, when about 15 Egyptian soldiers were killed, and the army demonstrated its lack of preparedness. “General Tantawi understood that one cannot remain in power indefinitely in Egypt today.” Was there an under-the-table accord between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood? “We’ll see whether this move will bring good for democratic Egypt or whether only a few will benefit,” says Farouq. “I only know one thing: those today who see only conspiracy theories do the country no good. Conspiracy theorists kill hope. But today in Egypt, if we lose hope, we lose the whole country.”

“On this stage.” What does Egypt truly need today? In response to Emilia Guarnieri’s question during the final event of the Meeting 2012, Wael Farouq answered, “What Egypt needs today, we see incarnated on this stage. Men and women, people of religion, lawyers, scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs, Muslims and Christians, liberals, Islamists, and socialists. We see young and old people, we see Egyptians and non-Egyptians. In short, we see the group of the Meeting of Cairo, the group whose strength lies in the capacity to transform differences into a positive, constructive energy. What Egypt needs today is this human experience. The human being is this way. Society cannot transform failure into success and crisis into opportunity without the love we see incarnate here.” The date for the Cairo Meeting is May 24, 2013. The title? “Education to Freedom.”

Luca Fiore