Cairo: Hopes and disenchantment in the aftermath of the revolution
Asmaa Mahfouz, interviewed by Nina zu Fürstenberg 16 October 2012

You were one of the main protagonists of the Arab Spring with your social media engagement. Are you happier with the situation in Egypt now?

Not really. We really need to focus on the constitution. It is too limited. We need a constitution that defends and protects all Egyptians, not just some. We need to get as many people engaged with this constitution. We are trying to push the Muslim Brotherhood in the right way.

Have you and the youth from Tahrir Square organized yourselves in a group?

Actually, not. We are trying to reorganize ourselves. It is difficult because many hate the Muslim Brotherhood. While others, like me, are critical with them, but would like to have a constructive influence.

Aren’t there several different groups and ideas within Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood?

The Muslim Brothers have many roots everywhere. When you speak to single members, you will find good men with good intentions, but when you want to see this transformed into action by the leaders, you will realize that they mainly follow their own interests. They are not as good as they appear. Most Muslim Brothers have good intents, but have no voice. Several even decided to quit or regroup to be able to express their political ideas and Muslims actions. So when I attack the Muslim Brotherhood, I cannot attack everyone. I just do not believe in the leaders.

What do you think about President Morsi?

I met Morsi twice. He is a good man, but he can’t do anything alone because the Muslim Brotherhood pushes him alongside the team of the President. But, I pray for him and everyone should pray for him because he is our President. I cooperate with the President’s team. We let them know what is going on in the streets, give Morsi ideas and help to be connected with the people. He is an elected President, and this is a step in the right direction. Mubarak was not an elected President so what we can do is to push on many decisions.

Which are in your opinion the most important aspects to sustain?

First, to change the constitution because it favors the Muslim Brotherhood by 80 percent, so that more political groups should be accepted and have a chance. Second, to convince Morsi that this is not a government for the Muslim Brotherhood only, but for all Egyptians. They are only a part of many other parts. And third, that social justice should be applied and the majority of the people are included. The elites are more favored than the common citizen. He needs to listen to the people.

Do young people have more perspectives now? Are there jobs?

Yes, but if the President had the intent of administration he could create more jobs in this country. I believe that we have money in Egypt, but it is not distributed properly because there is no transparency. It’s like a closed black box. We don’t know anything about it.

So for your generation, say if someone wanted to open a company or a little business, would it be possible to get funds for that?

Not in Egypt. The only way to attain any money is by knowing someone inside the government. This is why I believe that it is not a matter of the economic crisis. It’s more about political favor, and not about the economy. Earlier we talked about the minimum wage for salaries, and Morsi would answer that he lacks the money to pay everyone equally. Meanwhile, all the people in the government take as much as they can, and there is no way around this. He could cut from the higher government salaries and distribute to those below.

So the change you had hoped for, is really no change?

No, we need time. We just kicked the first stone. We need to be smarter and use different techniques to keep the change.

How do people in Cairo feel about the recent film crisis? What did people talk about when you were in front of the American Embassy during the protests?

We had heard that in America a big movie would be shown that insulted the prophet Mohammad. It angered us all very much, including myself. Then, searching the American media I eventually found this film. It was a silly trailer without taste or substance. When I tried to find out where this movie would be shown in America, I found nothing. Somebody had made an Arabic translation and spread it across the Internet. So I decided to ignore it. To defend the prophet Mohammad, we have to be like him and act like him, and spread his words and peace. I don’t know if it was a good idea, but it’s all right for people to protest. So I went to the American embassy to see what was happening.

The right to protest was applied in this case or did protesters clash with the police?

Since I remember, the American embassy was always protected with many policemen. When we went there were no policemen at all. What had happened? It had been well guarded because of a strong sentiment of hatred towards American policies. Not only us, but also people all around the world hate American policies for what happened in Afghanistan, in Iraq and Iran. But that day there were no policemen. Many extremist Islamists and younger generations were protesting and shouting slogans regarding Americans needing to accept Islam and our prophet. People waved the black flag of ancient Islam. That flag became famous again because jihadists use it. Some started drawing graffiti on the embassy walls, which was wrong and against the law. Others climbed the walls of the embassy, took the American flag and burned it. With all of this, there was no police. It was very strange. The second day the police was back, violently attacking everyone instead of protecting us. The numbers of protesters increased and ended in big battle between the police and the protesters.

If you compare the protests in Tahrir Square and these? Were they very different?

Yes, they were very different people. I talked to many people at the embassy protest. It was hard to find two with the same perspective. People came for different reasons. Many went to battle alongside the protesters because they just wanted their revenge on the police. Some went because they hate President Morsi and Egypt’s relationship with America. Others joined to express their anger because they blame America for the past political turmoil in Middle Eastern countries and others joined because they were easily convinced by all the commotion. They all participate in just one place. The media portrayed the outbreak to be a war solely between America and Islam. This was not true.

Which was the mood on Twitter and Facebook?

The reaction of the Egyptian people to the American ambassador’s death in Libya was not right, on Twitter many expressed joy and said: “they took their revenge.” I responded that our Prophet Muhammad told us not attack anyone who does not possess a weapon and in Libya they had been without weapons. The Twitter opinions went from this sense of revenge to anger about what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. The story wasn’t about Islam; it was about how America killed many people in other countries. But no one spoke about this in the press. After the Arab Spring, this is the time to talk about it.

Did you twitter and explain what the silly film actually was?

We tried to explain on Twitter and other media outlets. Although our media is not entirely free, it is a room for many perspectives. And I tried to talk to the people on the street in front of the embassy but it was difficult to talk to people who all have different objectives. People claim that I’m defending the Americans and am against Muhammad because I am a spy or agent for them. What I try to do is make my American friends understand what is really going on in Egypt. I sent my journalist friends’ pictures and explanations so that they could publish the real truth. It will show the Americans that this is not a war between Islam and America. But as I said before, this is a kind of revenge on America. I felt that it as a protest against Obama and against our new President after the Arab Spring. It was a way to test him. But it also shows that we have created a new world after the Arab Spring with more opportunities for the Arab world, including being able to have a voice.

Very few Egyptians have seen America, and its way of life. I went to America and saw that it is a very large country with all kinds of people. One can’t judge America by this film. And I know well, because I attend many conferences about Islam, and American people are not against Islam. If anyone wants to be against Islam, they are free to peacefully protest. That is freedom.



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