Former Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy at MIIS
April 22, 2011
Revolution. What a beautiful word and an even more beautiful concept.
And this is what Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S., addressed in his lecture "Middle East in Transformation: The Domestic, Regional, and International Implications" Wednesday at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS).
In the Irvine Auditorium, Fahmy sat beneath the stage on an upholstered burgundy/gold antique chair with a backdrop of international flags belonging to India, Korea and America. Comfortably and confidently, he spoke to a packed audience of MIIS students and others about his current experiences in Egypt, along with the revolution movement. Four MIIS students sat in translation booths bringing the English conversation to light in Russian, Chinese, Korean and Spanish.
Fahmy serves as nonresident chair of the Middle East Nonproliferation Project at the Monterey Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). He is also currently dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and an international diplomacy professor at The American University in Cairo.
Returning to MIIS for the second time since 2009, the former Ambassador’s engaging points mostly focused on Egypt and included the following:
-People’s Participation: Egypt had an “odd revolution, something that one couldn’t write up and believe.” It was fairly peaceful, started by youth (which comprises 56 percent of the country) and joined by society with no clearly defined leaders. Earlier on, more women participated than men. “It surprised me that men waited until women came out first.” The Egyptian military’s participation proved to be bizarre with its people—completely neutral, never using force—a move unusual in other countries.
-Blind Accurate Predictions: “I can tell you blindly what day of the week it is in Egypt by listening to what’s going on outside.” Friday: Day of demonstration. Saturday: Quiet. Sunday: People begin asking for action to fire the prime minister or investigate the president’s spending. Monday: People are extending their patience. Tuesday: The government begins to tackle a specific issue. Wednesday: People urge government to respond or they will demonstrate again. Thursday: Begin planning new demonstrations for Friday. And it starts all over again.
-Building New Egypt: “I didn’t see it coming, even though I was literally there.” There is no road map to follow post revolution, since the country has never done something like this before. The Egyptian military would not be an option in building the new Egypt since they are not trained in domestic politics or laws. Egypt will see success if its people work to help its non- participatory citizens (about 70 %) find parties and programs they can associate with, hoping they choose a middle path, rather than a fundamentalist path. -Regional: “Egypt’s revolution is definitely a warning sign for all Arab governments that they need to look at their own governments. No Arab country will be immune to a call for better government.” The revolution will spread, but the outcomes or process will not be identical. Fahmy groups Algeria and Egypt, and mentions the different temperaments in each country, but adds that Algeria can learn from the challenges Egypt faced. Fahmy groups Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and notes the Sunni and Shi’ite divide. Concerning Syria, their situation may be closer to Egypt’s. Regarding Libya, their situation is completely different, since they don’t have the same middle class or structure as Egypt. -International: “My colleagues and I—we’ve been arguing about Egypt’s government for years.” Egypt is still committed to peace between Arabs and Israelis. In a new way, the Egyptian Revolution will help solve corruption issues and the country’s lack of transparency.
Fahmy concludes with his two-year predictions of the Middle East, noting that at least three or four Arab countries will topple their leaders and that one or two will fail. As for Egypt: “You will really have to decide whether you support Democracy in Egypt.”
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