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Egyptian Woman Works to Overcome Political Divide

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Egypt is in the midst of profound polarization, with supporters and opponents of the government facing off on the national stage, as well as the personal one.

In a country divided over the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, Sherien Fadel is on the losing side.

Outside her apartment in the northeast of Cairo, a poster of Morsi has been defaced, a metaphor for the government's efforts to erase all traces of his Muslim Brotherhood from Egyptian public life.

Fadel, who wears a niqab, is devout. But for her, the issue is not the loss of an Islamist leader, it's the subversion of the process that brought him to power.

"I believe in democracy," Fadel said. "I was happy when we had elections, when we had a constitution. I was happy to see people standing in queues to vote. It was an amazing picture.”

Sherien Fadel and friends display the rival hand signs of pro and anti government Egyptians. (Courtesy Sherien Fadel)

Sherien Fadel and friends display the rival hand signs of pro and anti government Egyptians. (Courtesy Sherien Fadel)

Fadel is one of Egypt's politically engaged, taking to Tahrir Square against the government in 2011, and again in August, dodging bullets in Rabaa Square against defacto leader Gen. Abdel Fatah el-Sissi.

It's a national divided mirrored in Fadel's family.

"My parents, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, no," she said. "They all, also my aunts, I have two aunts, and they're also Sissi supporters."

None of her family members would join Fadel to talk about Egypt's polarization. Fadel says that even in victory, they find the atmosphere stifling, with the resumption of emergency law and old fears of the police state renewed.

"The first thing they think about is, 'We shouldn't talk. We shouldn't talk about politics. We shouldn't talk about anything,'" she said.

Not so Fadel, who keeps the memory of those killed in the crackdown on Morsi supporters alive via Facebook. Her homepage features a tribute to those who fell, standing next to her during the government crackdown on August 14.

Fadel also runs civil disobedience campaigns, including a boycott of telecommunications companies that cut off service to the area during the protests, as well as urging people not to pay their government utility bills.

"This campaign is [to] very hard punish our government, because they don't have any revenue," she said.

It's enough to keep her father from even viewing her page, for fear the government monitors online activity.

But for all the stand-taking, Fadel is a great believer in reconciliation, something in short supply as both the military and the Islamists harden their positions and a zero-sum political game seems the only one being played.

She is still close with her family and maintains friendships across the political divide. She shows photos of her and her friends, smiling as they display the symbols of the rival pro and anti-government camps.

"We have different opinions but, at the end, we are humans," she said. "We should be together. That's the point that most didn't recognize."

Fadel says that if the other side can win in proper elections, not a coup, she will support them. Respect, she says, is a simple act of democracy, one she hopes more people here will some day show.

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