Egyptian parliamentary elections scheduled to begin in April have been postponed, and there should be a lesson in that for John Kerry, the new American secretary of State: don’t let what seems like pragmatism blind you to the powerful emotions of the people.
Secretary of State John Kerry walks out of his plane upon arrival in Cairo, March 2, 2013. Cairo is the sixth leg of Kerry’s first official overseas trip and begins the Middle East portion of his nine-day journey. (Pool photo by Jacquelyn Martin)
When Kerry landed in Egypt last week, on his first magical mystery tour through the Middle East in his new role, many of the liberals fighting the Islamist-dominated government of President Mohamed Morsi refused to meet him. I was among those in the broad coalition of the National Salvation Front who accepted the invitation and agreed to make a few remarks.
I hoped I could make Kerry feel the intense hopes and bitter disappointments experienced by Egypt’s revolutionaries. These same emotions are what drive so many to keep pouring into the streets in the face of savage government repression, keeping the revolution alive day after day, week after week. With parliamentary elections approaching in April, the Front announced it would boycott and the protests intensify.
That the meeting with Kerry took place in the “Aida” hall of the Marriott Hotel seemed somehow appropriate. A modern expression of a failed colonial past, it was built around a 19th-century palace constructed by a corrupt khedive to honor the French emperor for building the Suez Canal.
This, condensed a bit, is what I said there:
Secretary of State Kerry,
You are in Egypt at a very complex moment: a time when we are living pain and hope, dreams and nightmares—a revolution against tyranny.
Egypt does not need new aid from the United States. Egypt needs to build a new relationship on new foundations. Our country is not a lab for your experiments or a testing ground for your theories.
You backed up a semi-military regime in the past, and now you are supporting a religion-based regime. You did this so that these regimes would play the roles that you demanded of them.
You supported Hosni Mubarak until the last breath—the very last breath—of his regime. You, the United States, stood against the dreams of the people while they struggled to escape the dungeons of dictatorship.
Your officials like to describe our revolution as an “uprising.” That may be the way it looks to you. But for us, it is a REVOLUTION—and it continues. Our noblest people paid with their souls so that we can build a country where we can live in freedom, justice, and dignity. We did not make a revolution in Egypt to repaint the presidential palace, to renovate it, or just to have your embassy protocol officers change their contact list.
You, the United States, stood against the dreams of the people while they struggled to escape the dungeons of dictatorship.
If Abraham Lincoln, whom your country celebrates, had settled for buying new clothes for the slaves and kept slavery, America wouldn’t be so proud of its freedom today, nor would such a “democracy” have made it the powerful country it is.
We, Mr.Obama, want for our country, Egypt, to be a great nation also, just like yours. We have the foundations, the civilization, the vital forces that make it possible for us to achieve these dreams.
No, we are not an “uprising.” We are a revolution that still continues in order to build a new relationship between the ruler and the people. But it seems that your administration in Washington and thus your embassy in Cairo want to tailor a democracy for us here which is size S for small at a time when we think we should have a democracy that is XXX large.
You don’t realize, Sir, how grand our dreams are and deserve to be. Strangely, there is something that makes you think that we think that what we have is enough.
You used to describe Mubarak and his regime as democratic, legitimate, and elected—until hours before his overthrow. And you still describe the current regime of Mohamed Morsi as legitimate and elected at a time when he is killing peaceful protesters, and kidnapping and torturing young activists! This alone puts the regime’s legitimacy in question, if it has not lost it completely already.
President, Barack Obama, said the Egyptian revolution is one that will teach the whole world, and that is precisely what we want to do: to become a democratic model. But that appears to be way beyond your estimates for what Egypt can do, or what it deserves. Your embassy here reports that the current regime is elected, democratic, and liable to negotiate, while the opposition in Egypt is impossible to deal with and addicted to boycotts! Perhaps that really is what you see. But what we see is that Morsi, the man you appointed and are backing, is detaining, torturing, and killing us in the streets. And what we see is that you are supporting such a regime. What we see is that you support the forces that want to stop the revolution in Egypt for their own interests.America it is time to rethink policy for your interest before it is too late.