With recent riots and the dawn of a revolution in Egypt, a panel of professors from the religious studies, political science and history departments spoke about the future of Egypt last Thursday. Professors Stephen Lloyd-Moffett, Matthew Hopper, Anika Leithner and Manzar Faroohar addressed the current situation in Egypt as well as what they see for the future of the nation.
Lloyd-Moffett said Egypt is experiencing a different kind of revolution, and he called for the panel to help students make sense of what was going on.
Egyptians have recently broken out in protest of their government. Protesters are asking for free speech and free elections, speaking out against police brutality and economic issues such as high unemployment and low minimum wage. An estimated 300 people have died and more than 3,000 have been injured, according to BBC news.
Hopper said protests were reminiscent of Egypt after World War I, when Egyptians received a taste of independence and sought freedom.
“Before World War I, Europeans colonized Egypt, and afterward, the Egyptian citizens wanted out,” Hopper said. “World War I gave them a taste of freedom that they weren’t about to let go of.”
Hopper also said in 1971, a constitution was adopted for the Arab Republic of Egypt and violent protesters were shot down by Anwar Sadat’s regime.
“Today’s revolution is reminiscent of all this, but at the same time drastically different,” Hopper said. “Never before have we seen a revolution with social networking, where the Internet has played such an integral role.”
Egyptian government shut down Internet services in Cairo and nationwide Jan. 28 in hopes of preventing news from breaking and spreading, but devices like iPhones kept protests in circulation until Internet was restored on Feb 2.
Another major difference, Faroohar said, is who is protesting. The movement has been initially stereotyped as a Muslim extremist movement, but Faroohar said this is not the case.
“This issue is not a Muslim issue, it’s not a Christian issue — it’s an Egyptian issue,” Faroohar said. “The Egyptian government has no social base that will support it right now.”
Lloyd-Moffett said the Muslim Brotherhood has received a negative reputation for its anti-western sentiments. It was the Muslim Brotherhood that was behind the assassination of Sadat in 1981 and has since been banned from running for office in elections in Egypt. However, the Muslim Brotherhood still manages to receive 25 to 30 percent of votes in elections as write-in candidates. This group plays a pivotal role in the current riots, but the reasoning for protests are not solely in the interests of Muslims.
“There are people in the streets yelling ‘We are Muslim! We are Christian! We are all Egyptian!’” Lloyd-Moffett said. “This isn’t about religion, this is about Egypt.”
History sophomore Wyatt Oroke said the segment about the Muslim Brotherhood was the most interesting, and it helped him better understand what was really happening in Egypt.
“It was especially interesting to learn that this isn’t an extremist movement,” he said. “It helped me figure out what (Egyptians) are really looking for.”
The panel also discussed the influence of the West on Egyptian turmoil. Leithner said she felt very strongly that Egypt needed to solve the issue independently.
“One thing Egypt doesn’t want is for the West to get involved,” she said. “The more we push, the less likely we are to get what we want out of them.”
The best thing the U.S. and Europe can do is let Egypt make its own decisions, Leithner said.
By becoming too involved in the revolution, Faroohar said the Western world would force an identity upon it. At this rate, she said she sees the revolution taking a moderate route. The movement has yet to take on a real identity, and for now, she said, we can only call it an Egyptian movement.
All three professors agreed and said the military stance will play a drastic role in how the revolution plays out.
“I’m an optimist, but I see this being successful,” Leithner said. “I see some of the military already siding with the revolution.”
Hopper said the only way for the Egyptian people to win is for the military to take their side. If not, the movement will take a violent, drastic route rather than the moderate outcome Faroohar said she hopes for.
As Lloyd-Moffett closed the panel, he said the immediacy at which people receive this information is really important.
“As cliché as it sounds, we are witnessing history,” he said. “We can see what’s happening there, and they can see us too.”
History sophomore Andrew Pagan said he left the panel wanting more information.
“It could have gone for at least another hour,” he said. “But I was really impressed by what all the professors had to say, and how they related it all back to their field of study.”
Students said they were impressed with the quality of the panel despite the small amount of time allowed.
“I definitely learned a lot,” Oroke said. “I had a very broad idea of the subject before, but now I feel very informed.”
Lloyd-Moffett said he hopes to continue panels like this one and make them a regular thing.
“It’s great to see everyone out here, and I think it was really helpful for a lot of students,” he said.