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October 8, 2013

Cairo: An interview with Dr. Tyseer Aboulnasr

Scott Stockdale

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Despite the heavy death toll on Egyptians of all backgrounds, Dr. Tyseer Aboulnasr, former Professor of Electrical Engineering in the School of Information Technology and Engineering, University of Ottawa, and Professor at the University of British Columbia, said she still thinks demonstrations that led to the ouster of President Morsi, and the bloody aftermath, were a price that had to be paid to stop the systemic destruction of Egypt as a state.

Dr. Aboulnasr is currently on leave in Cairo, Egypt, working with Nile University. In an interview with The Charger, from Cairo, where she follows events daily, Dr. Aboulnasr elaborated.

“It was a very tough journey, but was it right to stay where we were? No! Morsi was destroying all the foundations of the country: the police, judiciary, the army and the churches. When the Supreme Court made a decision, it was not implemented if the government didn't agree with it. They regarded it as just an opinion. If the government does not respect the law, what do you expect regular people to do?”

This lawlessness created a political climate in which Mr. Morsi and some of his extremist supporters felt free to publicly call for the death of those who opposed the Morsi government's policies and actions, Dr. Aboulnasr said.

“Some of Morsi's extremist supporters went on TV and publicly named opposition who they claimed committed enough sins, by calling for Morsi to leave, that it was religiously okay to kill them: their blood was permissible. Following similar statements in Tunisia, two opposition leaders were actually hunted down and killed. Recently, a singer (Ali Al Haggaar) released a song very critical of the extremist Islamists and was accused of being an infidel.”

Dr. Aboulnasr said that in order to protest the ouster of President Morsi,  Muslim Brotherhood supporters were transported into Cairo from the countryside and used as pawns to try to reinstate Mr. Morsi.

“People in the secular opposition are going to destroy their religion and they can go to heaven if they die fighting against such people. This was the public message on the stage at the pro-Morsi supporters' sit-ins at Rabaa and Al-Nahda. To support the argument of fighting for Islam, not just for Morsi, organizers said the Angel Gabriel descended on the site to bless their efforts. People were told the Prophet asked Morsi to lead the prayers with him (the Prophet) following, to impress that Morsi was now the leader of Islam and not just a president. This is unheard of in Islam, but his supporters believed it.”

While deeply lamenting the loss of life on all sides as a result of Egyptian government attempts to break up sit-ins by supporters demanding President Morsi's return, and the violence that broke out across the country and in particular against Christians and churches after that, Dr. Aboulnasr explained that these “sit-ins” were nothing like the ones that occur in Canada or the US.

“At the time, protesters were on live TV, with automatic weapons, shooting at regular houses, with no police in sight. At Rabaa Square, aerial photos showed armed people walking around. Protestors took over streets around the “sit-in” areas, closed off traffic with concrete barriers, and controlled access of residents in this area to their homes. Everybody was searched. Some were kidnapped into the site, tortured and, in a few cases, killed.”

She said there were repeated attempts to resolve the loss of state control in these areas, over several weeks, well after the government made it public in late July that it will break up the “sit-in” - four weeks after it started.

With public pressure mounting, the government publicly stated that it was waiting for Ramadan to end. Indeed, after Ramadan and Eid celebrations, police moved in.

It has recently been revealed that leaders on site knew police plans six hours in advance. While these leaders escaped before police entry, they never informed the protestors.

Currently, the situation in Cairo remains volatile, but Dr. Aboulnasr thinks they've turned the corner and things are getting better.

She said that unlike the last two weeks in August, when she would wake up in the morning fearing the news of how many people would be killed that day,   or how many churches were burned, the government – for the most part – has been able to take control; except for Sinai, where there are ongoing battles with heavily armed extremist groups battling the military. While small demonstrations happen on Fridays, they are generally peaceful. 

However, this is Cairo, not the rest of Egypt.

On the day she spoke to The Charger (Sept 16), she said that at one of the villages in southern Egypt, Delga, police finally managed to get into the village, which was controlled by Muslim Brotherhood supporters for weeks, outside government control. 

Delga is a mixed Muslim and Christian community – as is common in  Egypt – and Christians had to leave for their safety or pay for their lives to be spared. As has also been all too common throughout Egypt, Christians were a target of extremists, who accused them of being the drivers of opposition against Islamists.

“Just today, the police got in (to Delga) and the horror stories are emerging. It's a huge national shame. Christians are paying a big price for the anger of extremists, after Morsi was removed.”

Notwithstanding the extreme anger Dr. Aboulnasr said people in Egypt feel toward the Muslim Brotherhood, for having divided society and opened the door for extremists, she said it's not right to assume the solution is as simple as excluding them and assuming they will all go away.

They are a part of society and serious efforts have to be made to assure they rebuild a sense of belonging toward Egypt. All Egyptians must work toward building a harmonious, if not a uniform, society.

“There must real genuine dialogue. But the necessary strong leader who can bring all people together, has not emerged. I don't see a strong leader. The government is moving slowly to rebuild both the society and the economy. Still there is a desperate need for a strong leader, who can say:  'It's going to be tough for the next 20 years, but we have to start now. You cannot wait for the government to fix everything. You the people, must do your share, as we the government do ours.' It's going to be a tough journey, but Egypt has no option but to start now. I hope we've hit rock bottom. There can be no way but up now. Egyptians, all Egyptians, must be part of the solution, or they'll become the problem. The wounds may be too raw now, but work on healing must start immediately.”

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