Several thousand miles away from their homeland, some Egyptian presidential candidates and representatives of Egypt’s revolutionary youth activist groups got together in Washington D.C. with hundreds of Egyptian Americans to discuss the future of Egypt. The themes of this conference, organized and funded by Egyptian Americans, were the road to democracy and economic development.
Young activists who led the revolution explained their vision for a democratic Egypt and complained that the Military Council, which is running the country during the transitional period, is not moving fast enough to transfer power to an elected civilian authority.
Asmaa Mahfouz, one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, a Facebook group that mobilized demonstrations to change the regime said, “Unfortunately, the Supreme Military Council is not achieving the revolution goals of democracy, freedom and dignity for all.”
She said the barrier of fear was broken and, if people find that events are not leading to the future they aspire to, there will be another January 25, a reference to the revolution’s starting date.
Zahra Said, sister of Khaled Said, whose death by police brutality was a catalyst for Egypt’s popular revolution, agrees, “There is still a security vacuum, lack of consultation with the revolutionary activists and we are yet to see a real change in the way Egypt is being run.”
Troubled transitional period
U.S. Congressman Jim Moran was the keynote speaker at the opening session. Although he shares the Egyptian youths’ concerns about the slow pace of the transition, he acknowledged the difficulties facing the transitional government.
“The transition is going to be a very long process but the young revolutionary activists should continue to press for achieving the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” said Moran. He added, that the U.S. will not allow the transition to go astray because Egypt, as a U.S. friend, should lead the democratization in the Arab world.
Other sessions of the conference discussed the upcoming parliamentary elections and the right of Egyptian Americans to vote in Egypt’s elections. Just as the conference decided to send a delegation to demand this right, a high court in Egypt ruled that Egyptian embassies around the world should provide ballots for expatriates to vote.
Adel Kebeish, chairman of the conference and an outspoken activist for Egyptian Americans’ involvement in post-revolution Egypt, said they already have been giving a helping hand. “On top of about $2 billion that Egyptian Americans transfer to Egypt every year, there are hundreds of thousands of them that can contribute to the future of Egypt in almost all walks of life. We are not less Egyptian than our brothers and sisters living in Egypt,” said Kebeish.
He is troubled by what he calls a hostile media campaign that depicted the conference as a U.S. attempt to interfere in the internal politics in Egypt.
That media campaign in Egypt discouraged leading presidential candidates from attending. But Medhat Khafaga, one of two independent candidates who participated in the conference, said the campaign was inaccurate.
“The conference was a meeting of minds; Egyptian Americans and Egyptian activists and candidates, we were able to define major challenges, like security problems, how to revive the economy and shorten the transfer of power to civilians,” said Khafaga. “Egyptian Americans can help the future of Egypt through technology transfer, teaching in universities, advance medicine, scientific research and improve the quality of industry.”
Unified in wanting a better Egypt
Other major candidates for the Egyptian presidency, such as the Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) participated in the conference through video messages. “Egyptian Americans,” ElBaradei told the audience, “are urged to help Egypt in every possible way to get over its low rate of economic development, fight poverty that is plaguing 40 percent of the population, revive tourism and help the transition to democracy.”
Eighty-year-old Ibrahim Oweiss, a retired professor of economics, told the conference that Egyptian American experts have a golden opportunity to give back to their motherland. “They can bring back investment projects that were shelved during Mubarak era because of corruption and stifling bureaucracy; they can invest in job-creating projects to ease unemployment and share their democratic experience living in the U.S.,” he said.
Oweiss emphasized the fact that providing security is crucial to tourism and economic activities in Egypt and that the new constitution should stipulate that the people are the source of authority.
Egyptian American participants in the conference, such as educator Samia Harris, felt that it sent a strong message to the Egyptians that Egyptian Americans are united behind a better future of Egypt. The conference attendees agreed that, in order to maintain the national unity, Egyptians should adopt the notion that their country is for all and religion is for God; and the new constitution should guarantee equal rights for all citizen - regardless of their religion.
Participants urged the Supreme Military Council to expedite the transfer of power to a civilian authority. A delegation of Egyptian Americans will visit Egypt to discuss practical ways to contribute to a better future of Egypt.