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A New Start For Egypt?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Later in the program, young people are mowing lawns and lifeguarding this summer, so our money coach will talk about summer jobs and the importance of teaching children about financial responsibility. But first, we wanted to talk about the dramatic events unfolding in Egypt. Here's what we know so far. Last week, millions of Egyptians took to the streets in cities across the country. They were protesting against the president, Mohamed Morsi.

By Wednesday, the military had unseated Morsi and his political party, the Muslim Brotherhood. Protests have followed. Dozens of people were killed on Monday when the military opened fire on Morsi's supporters. We wanted to talk about this with people with different perspectives, so we've called Heba Gamal. She's an Egyptian who left San Francisco in 2011 to demonstrate in Tahrir Square during the fall of the previous president, Hosni Mubarak. She was back in Tahrir Square this past weekend - witnessed the end of Morsi's rule and she was - she's with us by Skype from Cairo. Heba, thank's so much for joining us.

HEBA GAMAL: Thank you so much for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: And back here for additional contacts in our Washington studios is a voice we turn to often for understanding of events of the region, that's Abderrahim Foukara. He's Al-Jazeera's Washington bureau chief and he's back with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Abderrahim, thank you so much for joining us once again.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Heba, I'm going to start with you. For somebody who hasn't closely followed these protests, I just wanted to ask you first to describe the atmosphere there. Is it exhilarating? Is it frightening?

GAMAL: I think it's a combination of all of those emotions that you just described. It's - I think June 30th was, in many ways, exhilarating and exciting and historical. Walking down the street with millions and millions of people and then seeing the aerial footage of how many people took to the streets was breathtaking in many ways. And I think as the days unfolded, it sort of became confusing and frightening and - but I think also still hopeful.

MARTIN: Could you describe for people who haven't followed events, what were the grievances against Morsi?

GAMAL: We had elections here in Egypt about a year ago where Morsi, in a runoff election, was up against someone who basically represented the old regime that we brought down when we brought down Mubarak. So it was a very, very tough choice for a lot of people who considered themselves middle of the line folks, politically speaking. You had to make a choice between the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a pretty conservative Islamist political group, and the representation of the old regime, basically.

Morsi won, you know, people kind of took that as is, although there were talks about having it not be a very fair elections and some incidents taking place. And then throughout the year, it became very, very clear that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had very different intentions for ruling the country, which led to a lot of different grievances that the people started having. There was a constitutional declaration that was very biased and very dictatorship-like.

We started facing a lot of outages of electricity and a fuel shortage that drove people into, you know, not being able to go to their work and things like that. So there was a lot of mishandling of the presidency, basically.

MARTIN: I think what a lot of people are wondering is how does an individual kind of decide where he or she stands in a situation like this, or does where you stand on this kind of depend on where you were to begin with? If you were for Morsi from the beginning, you're generally for Morsi now...

GAMAL: ...No...

MARTIN: ...That type of thing?

GAMAL: There's a very funny sort of phrase here in Egypt where a lot of people said that they squeezed a lemon and voted for Morsi. So that meant that they kind of squeezed a lemon on the wound and voted for Morsi because they didn't want to vote for the old regime back in. And they were kind of taking their chances, but with a lot of reservations on the Muslim Brotherhood and their intentions in ruling the country. And so you have people from across the spectrum who either abstained or voted or voted with major, major reservations that were against Morsi, and all of them ended up being against Morsi on June 30th and took to the streets.

MARTIN: Do you feel safe going out? Can you go out?

GAMAL: Yes, I'm actually talking to you from work right now. So working hours are sort of back to normal. There are areas that are kind of considered unsafe or blocked areas, that either the Muslim Brotherhood or the authorities are clashing at or there are just protesters that are still in - striking out or having a sit in in those areas.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we have been speaking with Heba Gamal. We've been talking about the protests in Egypt over this past week that led to the ouster of the president, Mohamed Morsi. I'm going to bring Abderrahim Foukara of Al-Jazeera into this conversation right now.

He's the Washington bureau chief of Al-Jazeera International. Abderrahim, I just wanted to ask how these events struck those of you at Al-Jazeera who've been following this since the beginning of the Arab Spring, in fact, all over the region. Is there surprise at the turn of events in Egypt?

FOUKARA: What was surprising is that there wasn't the kind of politically imagination on the part of all players to get this resolved without actually conducting a coup. Although many of the protesters who ended up toppling Morsi, they don't actually call it a coup. They call it a second revolution, and the army, they say, always goes with the people.

Morsi's supporters obviously contest that. And I think when it comes to Al-Jazeera, in particular in Egypt, Al-Jazeera over the last couple of years has been in one of those positions where Egyptians either loved it with a passion, or hated it with a passion. Remember during those 18 days that toppled Mubarak, a lot of Egyptians felt that Al-Jazeera actually gave the revolution a platform, which the Mubarak regime had denied it.

But since then, many Egyptians feel that Al-Jazeera has actually been much more of a platform, especially Jazeera Mubasher, which is a local Jazeera channel in Egypt. A lot of people feel that it has been - that it has given a platform to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Morsi more than anybody else. So Al-Jazeera has been caught up in this mix that's happening now in Egypt.

MARTIN: I understand that one of your offices was actually attacked today, you know, as we were speaking...

FOUKARA: It was.

MARTIN: ...A short time ago.

FOUKARA: Yes, it was attacked today. Several days ago, after the coup, the security forces stormed the offices of Al-Jazeera Mubasher - this channel that I'm talking about, which is an Arab C-SPAN of a sorts - and they actually detained 28 of its employees. They were later released. They also stormed the offices or tried to shut down the operation of the regular Al-Jazeera Arabic channel, and I think it's part of the questions that have been raised now.

During Morsi's reign for all of the terrible things that - or the terrible ways in which he handled the situation, as we heard from Heba, he didn't shut down any news outlets. The military and the civilian governments that has been working with it since the coup, immediately after what happened a few days ago, they proceeded to shut down three or four outlets controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, and then we've had this issue with Al-Jazeera and other channels. So there's this question, is there a real intention to actually have reconciliation, to have the problem resolved, and if it does exist, to what extent does it exist now?

MARTIN: Very briefly, before we take a break - and I'm going to ask you to stay with us - is Al-Jazeera using the word coup, or the Arabic equivalent of coup, to describe what happened? As you know, that that's a kind of a matter of dispute here in the U.S., and what - certainly what term the U.S. government is using and certainly what some are using. Are you using the term coup?

FOUKARA: It is. I think from what I've seen so far, with some consistency, Al-Jazeera has been using the word coup.

MARTIN: Heba, let me get back to you here. What word do you use when you talk about what's happening in Egypt? And I understand that that sounds like a small question, but there are big implications to it. So what word do you use?

GAMAL: I think I've been sticking to: The ouster of Morsi. I personally don't think that this is a coup, in the definition - in the traditional definition of a coup. And also, I think this is an opportunity for non-Western countries to start developing new terminology in the political sense of what is happening in our countries. Coup, by definition - mostly by the Western definition of what a coup means - falls under what is happening now in Egypt. But...

MARTIN: But Morsi was democratically elected, wasn't he? And then he was ousted by the military, which wasn't elected. So that would...

GAMAL: Yeah, but I think...

MARTIN: ...Indicate that it's a coup.

GAMAL: Yes, by definition, but I don't think that it necessarily - it necessarily applies to the situation here. Other people on the street were out - the majority of people on the street were out crying for the army to come down and oust Morsi. So in many ways, that was the will of the people.

And I don't think that we should be judging whether that's a coup or not just because it's based on, you know, textbooks that have been written by modern Western democracies and that have experienced very - very different situations and contexts than what is happening in Egypt.

MARTIN: Abderrahim, could you talk about that? Do you have a sense - and actually this is such a fluid situation and so difficult - but what is your sense of public opinion in Egypt around Morsi's rule, I mean, or his administration, if you want to call it that? Is it 50-50? 51-49? What's your sense of it?

FOUKARA: Well, I mean, first of all, let me say this, I'm not Egyptian, but I know for a fact that Egyptians have a uniquely different relationship to their army. You don't find this sentiment anywhere else in the Arab world. They do see it as an army for the people, by the people. Almost every Egyptian family has been represented, at some point or other, in the armed forces.

We - during the toppling of Mubarak, we heard the slogan in Tahrir Square: The people and the army are one. I do not always understand that because the army has shot civilians, even back then, during those 18 days. But that's the feeling, and that's why you have this reluctance on the part of many Egyptians to see what happened a few days ago as a coup. Now to the issue of Morsi, I think it's very difficult to see it in terms of numbers, but I think what's clear is that even many of the people who had originally voted for Morsi have been alienated by Morsi during the year that he ruled, not just because he was incapable of improving the economy, but also because of his political bungles that he made.

One of them was to issue a constitutional decree in which he said, because we don't have a Parliament now - it had been dissolved - any decisions that I make, you cannot repeal or appeal against them. So he's alienated a lot of people. The question that remains now - there's obviously a core Muslim Brotherhood that's still faithful to him - the question is, what are they going to do? Politically, they've said they will not take part in any dialogue unless Morsi has been reinstated. Many Egyptians feel that this is not a pure military coup, this is a coup which has the will of the people. So where does the country go from here? That's the question.

MARTIN: We'd like to take a short break. But when we come back, we want to continue this conversation with Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief of Al-Jazeera International and Heba Gamal. We're talking about unrest in Egypt. We hope you'll stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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