Young Egyptian Activists and the Obama effect!
By: Dalia Ziada*
Egyptian grassroots, who have no interest in politics at all, as well as high profile politicians, intellectuals, and state officials, including the President of the state are looking forward with hope, pride, and limited suspicion to the prospected visit of the American president Barack Obama to Cairo on June 4th.
Cairo University, the largest and oldest governmental university in Egypt, which is said to be the venue for Obama's anticipated speech to the Arab world next month, is shinning due to renovation and cleaning works, which the university was deprived of for years.
On Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, where most of Egyptian young people spend their day, there are tens of posts and notes addressing Obama and calling upon him to adopt certain strategies towards domestic and regional problems with absolute confidence that he can really eliminate the historical chaos of the most disturbed region in the world.
Local and international media is stuffed with stories, opinion editorials, and talk shows discussing the privileges and feasibility of Obama speech from Cairo. Some commenters build their analysis on the rotten "conspiracy theory" which appeals to large number of Arab audience. However, this did not affect the positive perspective the majority of Egyptians have towards Obama.
The strong positive passion of Egyptians towards Obama is as old as his first day of running for elections. When Obama won the president seat few months ago, almost all Egyptians stayed up as late as 3:00 am to see Obama delivering his speech to the world. This has never happened with any previous president! One of the weirdest unforgettable comments I heard from one of the Egyptian young activists on that night was: "I doubt that this Obama is a human like us!"
From the beginning, I chose to be more cautious regarding believing the smart promises of the new American president towards my country, region, and the world. I tried to avoid the trap of deification of the charismatic young leader which Egyptians fenced in, 45 years ago, under the charismatic eloquent president Gamal Abdul Nasser, whose rosy words blinded people from seeing the painful thorns of his destructive failure in transforming his inspiring words into on-ground action. However, after nearly five months in his new post, I could not help but falling in love with the Obama model.
In a very short period of time, Obama proved that he is the man of real action not only elegant words. He made a plan to withdraw from Iraq after trying to fix what his forebear messed there. He even called for forming a committee to investigate the war crimes committed under Bush in Iraq. He signed a treaty to end torture and close Guantanamo prison forever. And most importantly, he is exerting a tangible effort to establish good relationship with the Middle East and the Muslim world based on mutual respect, partnership, and compatibility.
The question why young Egyptians, who resemble more than 65% of the Egyptian population, believe in Obama may have dozens of answers. The most intuitive that might pop up to a non-Egyptian reader could be related to Obama's Muslim origins. However, as an insider, I can assert that in a country of citizens with different religions, political affiliations, and social backgrounds, like Egypt, the answer would be far more complicated.
For Egyptian youth who suffer unemployment and the lack of equal opportunities in the business market, Obama is the embodiment of the possibility of the impossible dream. His Muslim origins and the color of his skin should have forced him to spend his whole life marginalized and ignored. But as an ambitious young man, he broke the stereotype and became the first black American president in such a relatively young age.
Obama, the young ambitious open-minded leader, whose electoral campaign used the latest information technology tools to communicate with youth all over the globe, is the symbol of the change aspired by young political activists, who have lost their voices struggling tirelessly with the "unchangeable" 28 years-old Egyptian regime.
Moreover, the fact that Obama was a human rights activist who adopted many noble causes for love of humanity before he becomes the president of the United States, added to his grades in the eyes of young Egyptians. The mere fact that Obama is interested in human rights has, even, contributed – indirectly, though – in changing some of the politically motivated crackdown on Egyptian rights activists and political dissidents. One major example was the dropping of 80% of the charges filed by members of the ruling National Democratic Party and independent regime affiliates against the famous Egyptian dissident and sociologist, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who is living in exile since 2007. Another example was the unexpected pardoning of Dr. Ayman Nour, who spent four years in prison on the background of running to presidential elections in 2005 in a way that threatened Gamal Mubarak plans to inherit the position of his father, President Mubarak.
For the first time, in tens of years, Egyptians can see an American president who is not eager to establish a relationship with the Egyptian regime regardless of its black record of practices against democracy and human rights. This forced the Egyptian regime to show more tolerance and flexibility towards human rights activists and groups.
Yet, the inevitable question, while waiting impatiently for Obama's visit to Cairo within few days, would be: is Obama willing to live up to the high expectations of young Egyptian activists through supporting them in their struggle for domestic reform and making their dream of change, inspired by him, true?
* Dalia Ziada is a young Egyptian human rights activist, blogger, and North Africa director of the American Islamic Congress.